A senior US military official took advantage of a visit to Oman to call on Iran to refrain from any provocation, at a time when the new US administration of Joe Biden says it wants to relaunch dialogue with Tehran.
“I think now is the time for everyone to show restraint and caution, and see how it goes,” said General Kenneth McKenzie, who commands all US forces in the Middle East, during an interview with AFP on Sunday.
“But we are ready for any eventuality,” he warned.
“A lot will be determined in the coming months,” added General McKenzie, chief of the US Army Central Command (Centcom), as Biden’s government has made several gestures in recent days towards Tehran to relaunch the international agreement of 2015, supposed to frame the Iranian nuclear program.
The US general said that “the Iranians should strive to be recognized as responsible members of the community of nations and a stable nation in the region”, by renouncing their “harmful” activities.
The United States accuses Iran of destabilizing the region by financially and militarily supporting armed groups, particularly in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.
They also blame the Revolutionary Guards, the ideological army of the Islamic Republic, for disrupting maritime traffic in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which passes a third of the oil transported by sea in the world.
The Strait of Hormuz thus figured at the center of the American general’s visit to Oman, officially intended to make contact with the country’s new chief of staff, Rear Admiral Abdallah Ben Khamis Al-Raissi.
On Saturday, he visited the Omani naval base in Khassab, which controls maritime traffic in this strait from the ruggedly landscape peninsula of Musandam, in the north of the country.
– “Foggy” –
General McKenzie even flew over the strait in a helicopter, approaching 45 km from the Iranian island of Qeshm, across the strait.
“It was foggy, I couldn’t see her,” he smiled.
The visit went off without incident but it had been surrounded by discretion and the military official did not rule out that Iran again tries to avenge the assassination in Baghdad in January 2020 by the US army of General Qassem Soleimani , head of the Quds Force, in charge of the external operations of the Revolutionary Guards.
“There is a risk that they will be tempted” to strike US bases in the region, he admitted. “But we are constantly evaluating measures to protect our forces.”
Could he himself be the target of an attack? “I am an old Marine General. I have been exposed to risk many times and in many places. I am convinced that we have good safeguards.”
A Twitter account linked to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last month posted a call for revenge for the assassination of General Soleimani that appeared to target his sponsor, former US President Donald Trump.
But numerous attacks attributed to pro-Iranian groups have hit military bases used by the US military in Iraq in recent months.
The Sultanate of Oman is an ally of the United States, which uses several air bases there as well as the port of Salalah (south). But it also has ties to Iran, and international sanctions against Tehran directly hit the Omani economy.
General McKenzie’s Omani interlocutors did not hide from him their satisfaction at seeing the Biden administration abandon the policy of “maximum pressure” against Iran, which has cost the Sultanate dearly in terms of trade with Tehran. .
This small country of 4.5 million people experienced a peaceful transmission of power to the death a year ago of its historic ruler, Sultan Qaboos.
Sultan Haitham, who succeeded him, has set up a new government team and carried out a large reshuffle at the head of the armed forces, but he assured that he wanted to maintain the policy of neutrality and the role of mediator of the country in a Gulf region under tension.
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