WASHINGTON — Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Tuesday that he hopes other nations will express outrage about Iran’s actions in the Persian Gulf, then work with the U.S. to develop ways to deter conflict in the region.
“We want to close the door to conflict and open the door to diplomacy,” Esper told Pentagon reporters as he flew to Europe to attend a NATO meeting. “The door is wide open, we just need them (Iran) to come to the table.
“We are in the early stages of convincing nations to publicly speak out against Iran,” he said. There are no new initiatives from other nations as of now, he added.
Esper took over as acting defense secretary Monday after Patrick Shanahan withdrew from consideration to be nominated for the post and resigned his job as deputy defense secretary. Esper was Army secretary and President Donald Trump said he expects to nominate him for the full time defense secretary job.
The NATO meeting was previously scheduled. Esper said it was the perfect opportunity to reassure allies that it was just a change in Pentagon leadership, not policy or commitment to NATO.
Esper made his remarks to a small group of Pentagon reporters traveling with him, known as a press pool. TMN is one of the media organizations that rotate into the travel press pool and has access to the pool reports.
“Nobody is counting ships or compositions at this point in time,” Esper said, in regards to a united effort again Iran. “A number of countries get their oil through the Strait of Hormuz. We need to internationalize the solution and talk about the way ahead.”
In addition to Iran, another topic expected to garner much conversation at the meeting is Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-missile system. The U.S. has said Turkey cannot participate in the F-35 stealth fighter program any longer if it acquires the S-400, as NATO fears the Russian equipment would jeopardize the secrecy of the F-35 and other NATO systems.
Turkey has said it plans to go forward with the purchase.
Esper said his message to Turkey is straightforward.
“Turkey has been a longstanding and trusted partner and ally for many, many years. But this pursuit (of the S-400) undermines that,” Esper said. “It also undermines the agreement NATO made several years ago to begin divesting of Russian equipment. It moves in the wrong direction.
“If (Turkey) accepts delivery of the S-400, it will not receive the F-35; it’s that simple.”