US forces in Persian Gulf is just a deterrent, says Pompeo

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is not seeking conflict with Iran and its military buildup in the Persian Gulf is aimed entirely at deterring Iranian aggression and threats to U.S. interests and international shipping, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday.

On a visit to U.S. Central Command in Florida, Pompeo said he is confident the American military is up to the challenge and ready to respond to any attack. He reiterated that President Donald Trump “does not want war” and only wants to re-establish a deterrent to Iranian threats. Pompeo traveled to the base a day after the Pentagon announced the deployment of an additional 1,000 troops to the region.

Pompeo says he made the trip to Florida to meet with commanders who would be responsible for any operations in the Gulf to ensure that America’s diplomatic and military efforts are coordinated “to make sure that were in the position to do the right thing.”

The “right thing,” he said “is to continue to work to convince the Islamic Republic of Iran that we are serious and to deter them from further aggression in the region.”

Iran’s announcement Monday that it could soon start enriching uranium to just a step away from weapons-grade levels challenged President Donald Trump’s assurances to allies that the U.S. withdrawal from the deal last year made the world a safer place.

The Pentagon responded by ordering 1,000 more troops to the Middle East, including security forces for additional surveillance and intelligence-gathering. The escalation of American military might was aimed at deterring Iran and calming allies worried about the safety of strategic shipping lanes .

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, insisted Tuesday that while “we do not wage war with any nation,” Iranians will withstand mounting U.S. pressure and emerge victorious.

After Trump withdrew from the deal signed by President Barack Obama, he reinstated stiff economic sanctions, leaving the European and other partners in the accord struggling to keep Iran on board.

Iran’s announcement that it would not abide by a limit on uranium stockpiles established under the 2015 agreement puts the U.S. in the awkward position of demanding that Iran comply with a deal that Trump derides as the worst in history.

“We continue to call on the Iranian regime not to obtain a nuclear weapon, to abide by their commitments to the international community,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Monday.

The U.S. accuses Iran of attacking two tankers near the Persian Gulf; the Iranians deny responsibility. With details murky and no one owning up to the attacks, the Pentagon released new photos intended to bolster its case.

In announcing the new deployment, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the forces are “for defensive purposes to address air, naval, and ground-based threats” in the Mideast.

“The United States does not seek conflict with Iran,” Shanahan said, describing the move as intended “to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests.”

He said the U.S. will continue to adjust troop levels as needed.

Russia urged restraint by all parties and worries that the additional American forces could “bring in extra tensions,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Some supporters of the multinational nuclear deal blamed the Trump administration for Iran’s provocative announcements, saying they were predictable given the renewed U.S. pressure.

“While Iran’s frustration with Trump’s reckless and irresponsible pressure campaign is understandable, we strongly urge Iran to remain in compliance with the nuclear deal,” the Arms Control Association said in a statement. “It remains in Iran’s interests to abide by the limits of the agreement.”

Iran has shown no willingness to negotiate another deal and has pledged not enter into talks with the United States while the administration keeps up the pressure with sanctions.

Administration officials are struggling with whether to press the remaining parties to the deal, including Britain, France and Germany, to demand that Iran stay in compliance. They must also consider whether such a stance would essentially concede that the restrictions imposed during the Obama administration are better than none.

Under the deal, Iran can keep a stockpile of no more than 660 pounds (300 kilograms) of low-enriched uranium. Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran’s atomic agency, said it would pass that limit June 27.

A senior U.S. official said the U.S. is most concerned about any violation of the deal that would reduce the time Iran would need to produce a nuclear weapon. The deal aimed to keep that “breakout time” at one year.

The official said certain violations would not necessarily reduce that time. But other violations, such as enriching uranium to 20%, should be addressed immediately if they occur, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Pompeo is to meet later Tuesday with the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, a leading deal proponent.

Pompeo, a leading critic of the deal while he was in Congress, has said Iranian compliance is not really an issue because the administration sees the agreement as fundamentally flawed.

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