smh: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has declared “there will not be a war with the United States” despite posturing from both sides, while stressing that Tehran will not re-negotiate the nuclear deal with Washington.

In a speech on national television on Tuesday night, Tehran time, Khamenei appeared to try to tone down the rhetoric emanating from the US as well as from Iran itself. It followed a tweet by one of President Hassan Rouhani’s advisers who told US President Donald Trump, “You wanted a better deal with Iran. Looks like you are going to get a war instead.”

American officials have revealed the Trump administration is considering a range of options for using military force against Iran. They said lawmakers from both the Democrat and Republican parties complained that the White House has not fully briefed them on the escalating tensions.

Top advisers to Trump met at the White House late last week to consider possible steps, including military action, as officials spoke of “credible threats” to US personnel by Iran or Iranian proxy forces. The Pentagon has already moved an aircraft carrier, strategic bombers and other military assets to reinforce US forces across the Middle East.

Officials said the options include increasing the number of troops in the region from between 60,000 and 80,000 to more than 100,000 in the most dramatic scenario were Iran to attack US interests or make clear moves to develop a nuclear weapon.

The New York Times on Monday reported that acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan, in response to a request for updated options from national security adviser John Bolton, put forward several proposals, including one to deploy 120,000 troops.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, Trump characterised the article as inaccurate but said he would be prepared to authorise an even more muscular approach if needed.

“Hopefully we’re not going to have to plan for that,” he said. “And if we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.”

Trump’s views on the proposals were not immediately clear. In general, he has sided with ending US military involvement in wars overseas, although he has identified Iran as a chief adversary and sought to demonstrate a tough stance on nations challenging the United States.

He is surrounded by officials with hard-line views on Iran led by his National Security Advisor John Bolton, who has advocated for regime change in Iran.

Iranian and American leaders say they do not want a war but warn that they are prepared to use military might if provoked. Speaking during a visit to Sochi, Russia, on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had made clear “that if American interests are attacked, we will most certainly respond in an appropriate fashion.”

Ayatollah Khamenei, in a series of messages on Twitter, also warned the US would be forced to withdraw from a confrontation with Iran.

“We don’t seek a war nor do they,” he said. “They know a war wouldn’t be beneficial for them.”

Nevertheless, the increasing tension has fuelled concern that the two countries might accidentally slide into conflict, with Britain and the European Union encouraging further negotiation on the deal.

Trump withdrew from the 2015 deal last year. It was signed with Iran, the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany to ensure Iran would not enrich uranium in return for economic benefits and the gradual easing of sanctions.

The comments from Khamenei and Pompeo came after four ships belonging to US allies Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Norway were attacked near the Persian Gulf, an act for which US officials suggested Iran may be responsible.

The incident followed a series of US steps designed to isolate Iran, including the designation of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organisation and a raft of new sanctions.

Becca Wasser, a policy analyst at Rand Corp, said those steps fuelled suspicions between the United States and its allies on one hand and Iran on the other, raising the risk of a small incident snowballing into a larger confrontation.

“It’s fairly common to have Iranian patrol boats harass US carriers and other ships in the strait,” she said, referring to the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway off Iran that is key to global commerce.

“You can imagine with some of the heightened tensions, that there could be a greater risk of that exploding into something larger.”

“In different times, an accident or a mistake could be resolved because of open lines of communication between Iran and the United States,” she added. “Now it could lead to the United States and Iran accidentally stumbling into some form of escalation.”

Typically a range of options is presented by military officials when requested by civilian leaders. Sometimes, policymakers select one course of action. Other times, they decide to do nothing.

US Central Command maintains a host of contingency plans that are updated periodically, especially when policy or threat information changes.

Military officials, who have privately voiced a strong desire to avoid conflict with Iran, have nevertheless described the recent intelligence as sobering and say they believe that Iran is actively planning attacks on US forces.

Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman for US Central Command, said the alert level for forces in Iraq and Syria had been increased in response to the recent intelligence, pushing back against a statement by a British general serving in Baghdad as part of the US-led coalition who said there was no amplified threat from Iranian backed forces there. That operation “is now at a high level of alert as we continue to closely monitor credible and possibly imminent threats to US forces in Iraq,” Urban said.

More than 5000 US troops are in Iraq, and less than half that are in neighbouring Syria.

Pentagon and congressional officials said the elements that contributed to the worrisome intelligence picture included Iranian military and other threats against diplomatic facilities in Baghdad and Erbil, Iraq. Officials also said they believed that Iran may be preparing to mount rocket or missile launchers on small ships.

Military officials say they do not know why Iran appears to be embracing a more hostile stance but say it is probably a result of mounting economic and diplomatic pressures.

Since the United States withdrew from the nuclear agreement a year ago, it has penalised almost 1000 Iranian individuals and entities. Sanctions on financial transactions and oil exports, in particular, have had a devastating effect on the Iranian economy.

International nuclear monitors have said that Iran has continued to meet its commitments under the 2015 agreement but that it has threatened to resume the stockpiling of enriched uranium unless the European Union finds a way to facilitate sanctions relief within 60 days. The Europeans, while striving to keep the nuclear accord alive, are stuck between the hard-line positions staked out by Washington and Tehran.

The uptick in tensions has also rattled the State Department’s top officials in charge of diplomatic security, who on Tuesday postponed a major forum of regional security officers from most embassies and consulates worldwideas senior personnel need to “remain in the field to assess and respond to potential threats,” according to a State Department memo.

The event is scheduled every three to four years and involves 300-plus people, said a State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss internal logistics. “It’s no small potatoes that Diplomatic Security chose to cancel this,” the official said.

Making matters more complicated, Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who are often accused of being Iranian proxies, carried out multiple drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities on Tuesday, a day after the Saudi Arabia oil tankers were damaged.

A Houthi spokesman, Mohammed Abdul Salam, claimed responsibility for the drone strikes saying on Twitter that they were a response to Saudi “aggression” and “genocide” in Yemen. The four-year-old war in Yemen is viewed as another front in the regional power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

It was unclear whether the attacks were related to increasing tensions between Iran and the US and its allies in the Persian Gulf.

The Saudi Energy Minister, Khalid al-Falih, said the attacks on two pumping stations had caused “limited damage”. He said the government was shutting down a pipeline while it assessed the damage and made repairs.

“The Kingdom condemns this cowardly attack,” Falih said in a statement. “And this recent terrorist and sabotage act in the Arabian Gulf against vital installations not only targets the kingdom, but also targets the safety of the world’s energy supply and the global economy.”

Source: Published by smh

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