US defence chief: Iran has been deterred but crisis not over yet

Mark Esper expects more countries to join maritime alliance against Iranian threats

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA - AUGUST 28: U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper holds a media briefing at the Pentagon August 28, 2019 in Arlington, Virginia. Secretary Esper participated in his first media briefing since he took office in July, 2019.   Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP
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US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said on Wednesday that Iran had been deterred from its destabilising behaviour, but that the crisis in the region was not over yet.

Speaking alongside Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Joseph Dunford, Mr Esper said the US wanted to hold talks with Iran to find a way forward amid the current tension in the Gulf.

“I'm not sure I'm ready to call the crisis over yet, but so far, so good,” he said.

But Mr Esper appeared confident that US measures, such as military enforcements and a maritime coalition, had deterred Iran.

"Further bad, provocative behaviour has been deterred," he said. "We want to talk with Iran and talk about a diplomatic path forward.”

Mr Esper said the US-led maritime coalition would make Iran even less inclined to act and he expected more countries to join the Sentinel Programme.

So far, the UK, Bahrain and Australia have joined, while France and Germany have declined.

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that a secret US cyber attack on Iran in June wiped out a critical database used by the country's paramilitary arm to plot attacks against oil tankers.

It also degraded  the ability of Tehran to covertly  attack shipping traffic in the Gulf, at least temporarily.

The report, quoting senior US officials, said Iran was still trying to recover information destroyed in the attack and restart some its computer systems, including military communications networks that were taken offline.

Iran has not increased its attacks in response to the June incident but it has been "continuing its cyber operations against the United States government and American corporations at a steady rate", the Times said.

Meanwhile, Mr Esper said the US would consider allowing Turkey back into the F-35 fighter jet programme, but only if Ankara returned to Russia the S-400 missile defence system that was delivered this summer.

"It’s either the F-35 or the S-400. It’s not both," he said. "It’s not park one in the garage and roll the other out."

The US officially expelled Turkey from the F-35 jets consortium on July 17, in direct response to Ankara’s acquisition of the Russian system.

Turkey had been a member in the F-35 consortium since 2002, alongside the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Turkey, Australia, Norway and Denmark.

It will lose training, imports and access to more than 100 F-35 aircraft due to be delivered by Lockheed Martin.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Moscow on Tuesday, where he met Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Mr Putin showed Mr Erdogan the SU-57 Russian stealth jet as a possible replacement for the F-35.