US leaders say Obama is not pivoting away from the Middle East

U.S. envoys to an international security summit in Bahrain reassured their audience that America isn't abandoning the Middle East, despite President Obama's much touted “pivot” toward Asia.

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The leader of the U.S. delegation, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made the remarks Saturday at the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Manama Security Dialogue. The remarks come amid concerns that the U.S. is taking a backseat role in the Arab Spring revolutions and the 20-month uprising in Syria.

“For all the logical focus on pivots in other directions, the fact remains that the United States cannot afford to neglect what's at stake in the Middle East, a region in the midst of transformations every bit as profound and consequential as the changes that swept over Europe and Eurasia two decades ago,” Burns said, according to Foreign Policy

“It's a region that demands American leadership, despite the pull of other challenges and the natural policy fatigue that comes after a decade in which our national security strategy was dominated by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

McCain voiced similar beliefs, even as he accused the White House of giving U.S. allies and enemies the impression that the United States is “disinterested, disengaged, or distracted.”

“The idea that the U.S. can pivot away from the Middle East is the height of foolishness,” McCain said.

The conference got off to a rocky start after the host country's crown prince, Salman Bin Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa, did not acknowledge the United States while opening the conference on Friday in the wake of U.S. criticism of Bahrain's crackdown on protesters. 

Bahrain is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, which is expected to play a vital role in case of a military conflict with Iran over the country's alleged nuclear weapons program.