MANAMA, Bahrain - Standing on the massive deck of the Navy's USS Ponce, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the United States is entering the new nuclear pact with Iran "very clear eyed" and it remains to be seen whether Tehran is serious about keeping its nuclear development peaceful.
Hagel's tour Friday of the Ponce gave him a platform to showcase America's vow that its military commitment to the region remains strong and will not ebb as a result of the Iranian deal.
And it also shined a spotlight on one of the Navy's new warship programs that allows the United States to position a staging base for commando units or other troops anywhere in the region without treading on any other nation's soil.
The next six months present a very wise opportunity "to see if the Iranians are serious about following through with commitments they have said they would make" about not developing their nuclear capabilities, Hagel told a crowd of Navy sailors and civilian mariners on the Ponce, which was docked at the U.S. base.
But at the same time, he said, "We are not going to change any of our military posture in this area or any part of the world during that six-month period. We will keep the same kind of strong assets, the same exercises, the same partnerships, the same focus on our strategic interests as we did before we entered into this six-month period."
His message, delivered in Iran's backyard, is meant to reassure allies that the nuclear pact with Iran will not diminish U.S. weapons sales or the military's efforts to work and train with other nations.
His visit to Bahrain comes less than two weeks after international leaders reached a deal with Iran that would freeze parts of its nuclear program in exchange for some relief from crippling Western economic sanctions.
Launched last year as a test program, the Ponce is a former amphibious transport ship that was retrofitted to become a floating staging base.