WASHINGTON — The acting defense secretary, Mark Esper, asked NATO allies for a unified plan forward against Iran during two days of meetings with his European counterparts.
As meetings ended Thursday, he appears to be still waiting for a response, let alone an answer.
As he said he would, Esper called on allies to “internationalize” the debate over Iran by issuing public statements calling out the country.
He also told reporters Thursday that he had asked counterparts to join like-minded nations in conducting surveillance of Iranian military assets in the region, including possible air surveillance, and perhaps organizing a picket line of ships and escorts.
“Iran’s hostile actions affect many,” Esper said.
He said most partners share U.S. concerns and that a few offered private support for action. However, Esper said that he did not receive any final commitments and that allies will get a detailed briefing in July.
Esper is attending a meeting of NATO ministers in Brussels. He is scheduled to return to Washington Thursday night.
“We have to flesh out our end and see what makes most sense,” Esper said. He said the goal is to “get this off the military track and get this on the diplomatic track.”
He said there is no quandary for European nations that still support the nuclear agreement with Iran to call out the country for bad behavior, such as violating international norms on the freedom of navigation on sea and in the air.
“The purpose is to avoid war with Iran,” Esper said.
Esper also singled out Russia for its instigation of problems in Europe, breaking its word on the INF (the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty) and acting in ways abroad that “prolong human suffering and provide cover for autocrats.”
He said with Russia clearly moving to get out of the INF treaty, the U.S. has started research on new medium-range, non-nuclear missiles to be ready to match what Moscow is developing.