Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 15 October 2019

'We don’t want war' say Iran and US in bid to ease Middle East tensions

The situation in the region escalated after further attacks on oil tankers last week

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during the inauguration ceremony of a new terminal at the Iran international Imam Khomeini airport outside Tehran. EPA
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during the inauguration ceremony of a new terminal at the Iran international Imam Khomeini airport outside Tehran. EPA

Both the United States and Iran said on Tuesday that they do not want war despite heightened tensions after attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman in recent days.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the administration will maintain pressure and continue to take action to deter aggression in the region but said that the White House isn’t looking for the already tense situation to escalate.

"We have been engaged in many messages, even this moment right here, communicating to Iran that we are there to deter aggression," Mr Pompeo told reporters at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.

"President [Donald] Trump does not want war and we will continue to communicate that message while doing the things that are necessary to protect American interests in the region."

Mr Trump has downplayed the impact of recent tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman, even as he authorised the deployment of 1,000 more US troops to the region.

Fears of a confrontation between the two countries have mounted since attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday, which Washington has blamed on Tehran. It was the second such attack in recent months.

Mr Trump, however, singled out nuclear weapons as the one trigger for military conflict between the two countries.

"So far, it’s been very minor,” Mr Trump said in an interview with TIME magazine, referring to the attacks.

The United States does not seek conflict with Iran but to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani also said that his country "will not wage a war with any nation" in a speech broadcast live on state TV.

But he warned that "those facing us are a group of politicians with little experience."

Iran's Ambassador to London, however, warned that the risk of conflict was still high.

“Unfortunately, we are heading towards a confrontation, which is very serious for everyone in the region,” he said.

Meanwhile, Acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan said that the tanker attacks last Thursday validate their intelligence regarding Iran's "hostile behaviour".

“The United States does not seek conflict with Iran but to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests. We will continue to monitor the situation," he said.

The announcement came after the Iraqi military reported that three rockets struck a military base in Iraq that is hosting US troops.

Tension continued to escalate between the two countries as the Pentagon released photos it said were of Iranian troops near one of the oil tankers attacked in the Gulf of Oman.

Retired four-star general Jack Keane told the BBC's Today programme that if Tehran embarked in “all-out war” with the US, it would bring down the Iranian regime.

A previous US army vice chief of staff, Mr Keane said President Trump was likely to send the navy to the Arabian Gulf to protect ships and ensure the vital oil artery remains open.

Also on Tuesday, the Saudi military intercepted two bomb-laden drones launched by Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

Col Turki Al Malki told the state-run Saudi Press Agency that one drone targeted a civilian area in Abha, whose regional airport has become an almost-daily target of the Houthis.

Col Al Malki says the other drone was shot down over Yemen.

After attacks on six tankers in the UAE and the Gulf of Oman in the past five weeks, US National Security Adviser John Bolton said the US was “very concerned about the dangers of the Quds Force and Iranian intelligence operatives".

The Quds Force is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's overseas operations unit. The US announced in April that it was designating the IRG as a foreign terrorist organisation.

The US Defence Department released close-up photos that appear to show IRG members removing an unexploded limpet mine from a Japanese tanker. The photos are taken from a US Navy helicopter and offer a level of detail on what defence officials in Washington believe is a Guard boat approaching the Kokuka Courageous.

Tensions between the US and Iran have been increasing since President Trump withdrew from a landmark multilateral nuclear deal a year ago.

Mr Trump’s administration exerted mounting pressure on Iran that began with a war of words, but quickly escalated towards confrontations that are more serious.

Last month, the US also pledged to send an additional 1,500 troops to the Middle East, citing the growing threat from Iran.

On Monday, Iran's atomic agency spokesman said the country will surpass its uranium stockpile limit set by the 2015 nuclear deal in the next 10 days.

Mr Bolton said the threats were “nuclear blackmail" and called for an increase in international pressure on Iran if it acted on the threat, and repeated that the US would not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

President Trump, said Mr Bolton, would be willing to reach a deal with Iran "assuming they give up nuclear weapons and stop the other malicious activity that they're engaged in".

Several countries in the region have expressed concern over the current situation. On Wednesday, the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, is expected to visit Baghdad to discuss bilateral co-operation.

The visit comes "amid unprecedented tensions and developments witnessed by the region,” Kuwaiti news agency Kuna said in a statement.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited US Central Command military headquarters in Tampa, Florida, and was due to meet the European Union's High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini later in Washington.

At the Pentagon, former national security adviser Henry Kissinger was expected to meet US defence officials for the second day in a row.

Updated: June 18, 2019 09:24 PM

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