Talk­ing down war talk

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - Front Page - AP/Of­fice of the Ira­nian Supreme Leader

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, meet­ing Tues­day with govern­ment of­fi­cials in Tehran, said that nei­ther Iran nor the United States wants to go to war, but that re­sis­tance in the only op­tion for his coun­try. Mean­while, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump dis­missed a re­port that his ad­min­is­tra­tion is plan­ning for such a war as “fake news,” but warned that he’d send “a hell of a lot more” than a re­ported 120,000 troops to the Mid­dle East in the event of hos­til­i­ties.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­jected a re­port that his ad­min­is­tra­tion is plan­ning for war with Iran, but then warned he’d send “a hell of a lot more” than 120,000 troops to the Mid­dle East in the event of hos­til­i­ties.

“I think it’s fake news, OK?” Trump told re­porters out­side the White House on Tues­day af­ter he was asked about a New York Times re­port that plans en­vi­sion send­ing 120,000 U.S. troops to fight the Is­lamic Repub­lic.

“Now would I do that? Ab­so­lutely,” Trump added. “But I have not planned for that. If we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.”

Ten­sions are ris­ing with Iran af­ter the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­voked waivers this month that al­lowed Iran to con­tinue sell­ing oil to some cus­tomers de­spite U.S. sanc­tions. Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates on Mon­day re­ported mys­te­ri­ous at­tacks on sev­eral ves­sels in­clud­ing oil tankers in the Per­sian Gulf, and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Ye­men claimed on Tues­day that they had used drones to dam­age Saudi oil pump­ing sta­tions ear­lier that day.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei said on Tues­day that nei­ther his coun­try or the U.S. want war, ac­cord­ing to the semi-of­fi­cial Tas­nim News. The U.S. knows that war won’t ben­e­fit it and the only op­tion for the Ira­nian peo­ple is re­sis­tance, Khamenei said at a meet­ing with se­nior of­fi­cials, Tas­nim re­ported.

The Times re­ported that the pres­i­dent’s top na­tional se­cu­rity aides met Thurs­day to dis­cuss up­dated war plans with Iran. The plans en­vi­sion send­ing as many as 120,000 troops to the Mid­dle East should Iran at­tack Amer­i­can forces or ac­cel­er­ate work on nu­clear weapons, the Times said.

The re­port said the plans do not call for a land in­va­sion of Iran, which would re­quire many more troops.

A spokesman for the White House Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, Gar­rett Mar­quis, de­clined to com­ment on the ac­cu­racy of the Times story. He said in a state­ment that Trump has been open to talks with the Ira­nian lead­er­ship and made clear that “the United States does not seek mil­i­tary con­flicts with Iran.”

But he added: “Iran’s de­fault op­tion for 40 years has been vi­o­lence and we are ready to de­fend U.S. per­son­nel and in­ter­ests in the re­gion.”

Mean­while, a se­nior of­fi­cer said on Tues­day that the U.S.-led mil­i­tary coali­tion com­bat­ing the Is­lamic State has de­tected no greater re­cent threat to its troops in Iraq or Syria from forces backed by Iran.

“No, there’s been no in­creased threat from Ira­nian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria,” Bri­tish Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika told re­porters at the Pen­tagon in a video con­fer­ence from coali­tion head­quar­ters in Bagh­dad. “We’re aware of their pres­ence, clearly, and we mon­i­tor them, along with a whole range of others be­cause that’s the en­vi­ron­ment we’re in.”

His com­ment comes as ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials say they have de­tected signs that Ira­nian or Ira­nian-backed prox­ies were pre­par­ing for pos­si­ble at­tacks against Amer­i­can in­ter­ests in the Mid­dle East. The ad­min­is­tra­tion cited the threats as the rea­son for ex­pe­dit­ing the de­ploy­ment of an air­craft car­rier strike group and other mil­i­tary re­sources to the re­gion.

Late in the day, the U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand said Ghika’s re­marks “run counter to the iden­ti­fied cred­i­ble threats” from Ira­nian-backed forces in the Mid­dle East. In a writ­ten state­ment, Cen­tral Com­mand said the coali­tion in Bagh­dad has in­creased the alert level for all ser­vice mem­bers in Iraq and Syria.

“As a re­sult, [the coali­tion] is now at a high level of alert as we con­tinue to closely mon­i­tor cred­i­ble and pos­si­bly im­mi­nent threats to U.S. forces in Iraq,” the state­ment said.

Sep­a­rately, Spain’s de­ci­sion to re­move a frigate on train­ing ex­er­cises from the U.S. com­bat fleet that is ap­proach­ing the Per­sian Gulf was made purely for “tech­ni­cal rea­sons,” the coun­try’s De­fense Min­is­ter Mar­garita Rob­les said Tues­day.

Rob­les in­sisted the de­ci­sion was “not an ex­pres­sion of dis­taste” over the cross­ing into the Strait of Hor­muz by the fleet headed by the USS Abra­ham Lin­coln air­craft car­rier.

Rob­les in­sisted Spain’s de­ci­sion was “pru­dent” and “per­fectly ad­mis­si­ble” un­der the terms of a two-year co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment that placed the Men­dez Nunez frigate with the U.S. fleet for ad­vanced train­ing. The ship and its 215 peo­ple on board have headed to Mum­bai, In­dia, she added.

“The United States govern­ment has em­barked on a mis­sion that wasn’t sched­uled when the agree­ment was signed,” Rob­les told re­porters dur­ing an of­fi­cial trip to Brus­sels.

She said Spain had never given its bless­ing for the frigate to go on a mis­sion in the Per­sian Gulf and that it will re­turn to the U.S. fleet once sched­uled op­er­a­tions re­sume.

AP/U.S. Air Force/STAFF SGT. ASH­LEY GARD­NER

A U.S. B-52H takes off from an air base in Qatar on Sun­day is this photo re­leased by the Air Force.

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