Monday 14 October 2019

Trump ready to deploy 'a hell of a lot of troops' to combat Iran

Moving into position: The US Navy Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group deploying to the Persian Gulf. Photo: AP
Moving into position: The US Navy Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group deploying to the Persian Gulf. Photo: AP

Roland Oliphant

Donald Trump suggested yesterday he is ready to send "a hell of a lot" of troops to confront Iran in the Middle East amid warnings that the two countries are stumbling towards a war.

The comments come amid mounting diplomatic and military tensions in the Persian Gulf after Iran-aligned Yemeni rebels attacked an oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia and an unidentified attacker attempted to sabotage tankers.

Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, said yesterday that US officials "fundamentally do not seek a war with Iran" but said there was an increased risk of attack from Iran's allies in the region. "We have made it clear to the Iranians that if US interests are attacked we will respond in an appropriate fashion," he told reporters after a meeting with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, in Sochi.

Mr Trump said reports that the Pentagon has drawn up plans to deploy 120,000 soldiers to the region in preparation for conflict were "fake news." But he added: "Now, would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. Hopefully we're not going to have to plan for that. And if we did that, we'd send a hell of a lot more troops than that," he said.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have spiralled since last week, when the US accused Iran of preparing to attack American interests in the Middle East and said it was sending an aircraft carrier and a task force of B-52 bombers to the region in response.

Iran then said it would resume enriching high-grade uranium needed for a nuclear weapon unless the world finds a way to ease the impact of US sanctions, which have devastated Iran's economy.

Mike Pompeo: US Secretary of State is in Russia for talks on Iran tensions. Photo: Reuters
Mike Pompeo: US Secretary of State is in Russia for talks on Iran tensions. Photo: Reuters

Iran's president earlier said he would not bow to US pressure and warned that Iran is "too great to be intimidated by anyone". "God willing we will pass this difficult period with glory and our heads held high, and defeat the enemy," Hassan Rouhani said.

On Monday four ships were damaged by "sabotage attacks" near the mouth of the Persian Gulf.

The United States and its allies have refrained from publicly blaming Iran, but officials in Washington have briefed reporters that national security agencies believe Iran or Iranian proxies were responsible. Iran has denied all such claims.

Yesterday, Khalid al-Falih, the Saudi energy minister, said state-owned oil firm Aramco had "temporarily shut down" the East-West pipeline after two pumping stations were targeted.

Mohammed Abdulsalam, a spokesman for the Houthi rebels, tweeted that the attacks were "a response to the aggressors continuing to commit genocide" against the Yemeni people.

The US has pursued a policy of "maximum pressure" since it unilaterally withdrew from a 2015 deal designed to curtail Iran's nuclear programme in May 2018.

Meanwhile, Mr Pompeo warned Russia yesterday not to meddle in the 2020 US presidential election after face-to-face talks with Vladimir Putin.

Mike Pompeo made the remarks while sitting alongside Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, at a joint press conference in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Mr Pompeo said: "Interference in American elections is unacceptable.

"If Russia engaged in that in 2020, it would put our relationship in an even worse place than it has been

"I conveyed that there are things that Russia can do to demonstrate that these kinds of activities are a thing of the past. I hope that Russia takes advantage of those opportunities."

But Mr Lavrov issued a lengthy rebuttal of America's belief that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential race.

"The facts show that those who are inflating this topic do not have any proof," he said.

Ever since the Mueller Report concluded that there was no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the president, Mr Trump has attempted to shift focus to the origins of the investigation.

Yesterday, it emerged that the US justice department has assigned John Durham, the US attorney in Connecticut, to examine whether there was any inappropriate activity in starting the inquiry.

Irish Independent

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