Iran deal 'flawed' but ensures a 'collective response', Centcom chief says

Gen Kenneth McKenzie says IRGC activities are not usually directed by Iran’s supreme leader

FILE - In this April1 14, 2018, file photo, then-Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie speaks during a media availability at the Pentagon in Washington.   In a blunt assessment Tuesday, Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, told Congress it will be extremely difficult but not impossible for the U.S. to find, track and take out counterterrorism threats in Afghanistan once all American troops are withdrawn.   (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
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The head of the US military's Central Command, Gen Kenneth McKenzie, on Tuesday described the 2015 nuclear deal between major world powers and Iran as “flawed”, but said it ensured a collaborative response to a challenging issue.

The assessment that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was imperfect but better than nothing “is still accurate", Gen McKenzie said at an event hosted by the American Enterprise Institute.

“When you deal with a security issue or a malign actor or nation, you are always better when the response is a collective response from a group of nations that come together,” the four-star general said.

“That was a good output of JCPOA. We were aligned with other nations to see it was executed … and I agree it was a flawed document."

The US special envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, is preparing to return to Vienna to resume indirect talks with Tehran on the possibility of returning to the deal.

Mr Malley consulted with GCC allies on Tuesday in a video conference attended by Dr Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s Diplomatic Adviser to the President, Sheikh Khalifa.

The US is trying to keep its Gulf allies informed of any progress in negotiations and take into account security concerns that were not originally addressed in the deal.

Gen McKenzie said the US was committed to maritime security in the region, stressing the global economy relies on free shipping passage through the Bab Al Mandeb.

"It’s in all our interest to have free flow of commerce throughout the region," he said.

Gen McKenzie called Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps the “greatest threat” to maritime security in the Gulf region.

But he said attacks against tankers were directed by the guard's commanders, and not by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“The activities we usually see from the IRGC navy are not necessarily activities directed by the supreme leader from the Iranian state, rather irresponsible actions by local commanders on scene," he said.

Gen McKenzie said the US was always seeking to ease tension.

“We are very careful so as not to get into a provocative cycle as a result of that. Luckily our guys are very good … and they’re able to de-escalate," he said.

The US Navy on Tuesday released footage of what it claimed to be IRGC boats harassing its ships in the Gulf.

Gen McKenzie said the US remained “in a state of contested deterrence with Iran” but he saw an opportunity for progress in Yemen.

“Saudi [Arabia] is behaving in good faith and I hope the Houthis would do the same,” he said.

The US commander also praised the Abraham Accords as a way to enable collective security co-ordination between Israel and Gulf countries.