President George W. Bush on Sunday visited the US Navy's Fifth Fleet amid new tensions with Iran over an incident in which the United States says its ships were harassed in the Strait of Hormuz.
Bush entered a mess hall at the sprawling Naval complex in Bahrain to loud applause and shouted "good morning" to sailors, Marines and soldiers assembled for breakfast.
Bush joined the chow line, picking up some pancakes with syrup and bacon, then sat down with military personnel to eat breakfast.
Bush visited Bahrain, which hosts the Fifth Fleet, on the second stop in his tour of US-allied Arab states aimed in part at rallying support against Iran.
Bush's visit came amid heightened tensions over a US-Iranian naval incident in the Gulf a week earlier.
Washington says its warships were threatened by Iranian craft in the Strait of Hormuz, a vital route for crude oil shipments from the world's biggest producing region.
Tehran dismissed it as a routine contact and accused the United States of exaggerating for propaganda purposes.
Bush discussed the Strait of Hormuz incident with Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, the commander of the Fifth Fleet, who made clear that his forces took it "deadly seriously," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters traveling with Bush.
"All of the people in the military remember what's happened in the past such as the USS Cole," she said, referring to the deadly attack on the warship in Yemen in 2000.
During a stop in Israel at the start of the Middle East trip last week, Bush warned Iran with "serious consequences" if it attacked U.S. ships, and said all options were on the table.
Washington is leading efforts to isolate Iran over its nuclear ambitions, and Bush said late last year that a nuclear-armed Iran could mean "World War III."
The Bush administration has kept up a campaign of harsh rhetoric despite a U.S. intelligence report in December that concluded Iran had halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003, contradicting the president's longstanding assertion that Tehran was actively pursuing development of a bomb.
Bush has insisted that Iran remains a danger. Tehran says it wants nuclear technology for strictly civilian purposes.
But the National Intelligence Estimate has left Washington's Arab allies worried and confused. They share U.S. concerns about Tehran's growing regional influence but want efforts at containment to be done without resorting to military means.
Kuwait, the first stop on Bush's Gulf tour, has said it will not allow the United States to use its territory for any strike against Iran.
Bush later on Sunday will visit the United Arab Emirates and make his "signature" speech of the trip on advancing democracy.
He will also visit Saudi Arabia and Egypt this week as he tries to rally Arab support for his Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking efforts. (Reuters)
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