US Central Command chief vows to boost Gulf maritime security
US Central Command chief Kenneth McKenzie pledged Thursday to work "aggressively" to ensure maritime safety in strategic Gulf waters after a spate of attacks blamed on Iran.
"We are currently talking with the international community about the importance of the right of freedom of navigation in the Middle East," McKenzie told reporters at Prince Sultan air base near Riyadh.
"We are going to work very aggressively with our partners... to come to a solution that will enable the free passage of critical oil and other commodities... through the region."
His comment comes after US General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, last week said the US aims to form a coalition to guarantee freedom of navigation in the Gulf amid fraught relations between Washington and Tehran.
Tensions in the area -- through which nearly a third of the world's oil is transported -- have spiked in recent weeks, with the US blaming Iran for multiple attacks on tanker ships in the region, and Tehran shooting down an American drone.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last month that he hopes more than 20 countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, would work together on building maritime security.
McKenzie said the US was in "exploratory talks" with potential partners to ensure free passage through strategic waterways, including the Strait of Hormuz.
This is "not a United States problem, it's an international problem... We're eager to be part of an international solution", McKenzie added.
He refused to confirm a CNN report that US President Donald Trump's administration plans to send 500 troops to Saudi Arabia, in what would serve as a show of force to Iran.
The troops will be stationed at the Prince Sultan air base, CNN reported, citing two officials at the US Defense Department.
The US announced in May that it was deploying 1,500 additional troops to the Middle East to counter "credible threats" from Iran.
McKenzie's visit to Saudi Arabia comes a day after the US House voted to block $8.1 billion in arms sales to the kingdom and other allies, in a move likely to be vetoed by Trump.