Acting Pentagon Chief Christopher Miller to Visit Mideast This Week to Discuss Regional Issues

Acting US Defence Secretary Christopher Miller will visit the Middle East this week to discuss with commanders and regional partners a range of issues such as combating "malign activities" in the region, the Pentagon said in a press release on Wednesday.

This will be Miller's first international trip since he was named head of the Defence Department.

"Acting Secretary Miller is also scheduled to meet with US commanders and host nation leaders to address security interests and priorities of countering violent extremism and combating malign activities that threaten the sovereignty and stability of the region," the release said.

The statement does not elaborate on what "malign activities" exactly mean here, but given the recent US rhetoric, it probably refers to Iran's activities in the region.

The Trump administration has recently intensified its foreign policy, as the transfer of power to Democrat Joe Biden has officially begun, having been greenlighted by the General Services Administration (GSA).

Media have been speculating that Trump could push for more harsh policies towards the states Washington perceives as enemies, namely China and Iran. According to an Axios report, the Israeli military has been recently instructed to prepare for a possible military strike against Iran to be conducted by the US before the next president enters the White House. The need to prepare is tied with the fears that Iran would supposedly conduct a retaliatory attack targeting Israel directly. However, the report is said to be based on the anticipation of a very "sensitive" period before the inauguration in the US, and not on intelligence.

Last week, the New York Times reported that Trump asked about "available options" against an enrichment facility in Natanz to permanently derail Iran’s nuclear project, but was dissuaded by his advisers, who warned the strike may escalate into a bigger war.

Washington has been pursuing a policy of "maximum pressure" on Tehran for being what it perceives as an "oppressive and illegitimate regime" while also calling on its allies around the world to increase pressure on the nation. The US has blasted Iran with numerous sanctions, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo once said that Iran must "fundamentally change its behaviour, or it can watch its economy collapse."

Iran, in response, has said that the United States has been waging a targeted campaign against the nation in a bid to isolate it in the region, noting that the sanctions against Tehran affect US allies as well. Following the US presidential election on 3 November, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted that "betting on outsiders to provide security is never a good gamble", adding that Iran was "extending its hand to neighbours for dialogue to resolve differences".