Washington - Washington said it would deploy 1,000 more troops to the region and renewed accusations that Iran was behind a tanker attack. China and Russia warned Tuesday about escalating Middle East tensions.
The US moves came as Iran set a 10-day countdown for world powers to fulfil their commitments under a nuclear deal abandoned by Washington, saying it would otherwise surpass the uranium stockpile limit mandated by the accord.
Tensions between Tehran and Washington have escalated ever since the US quit the deal, with Washington bolstering its military presence in the region and blacklisting Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organisation.
On Monday, Washington further upped the ante.
“I have authorised approximately 1,000 additional troops for defensive purposes to address air, naval, and ground-based threats in the Middle East,” acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan said in a statement.
“The recent Iranian attacks validate the reliable, credible intelligence we have received on hostile behaviour by Iranian forces and their proxy groups that threaten United States personnel and interests across the region,” Shanahan said.
The United States has blamed Iran for last week’s attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, a charge Tehran denies as “baseless.”
New tanker attack images
The Pentagon released new images on Monday that it said showed Iran was behind the attack on one of the ships.
The US argument centers on an unexploded limpet mine on the Kokuka Courageous tanker ship that it says was removed by Iranians on a patrol boat.
“Iran is responsible for the attack based on video evidence and the resources and proficiency needed to quickly remove the unexploded limpet mine,” the Pentagon said in a statement accompanying the imagery.
The US released a grainy black and white video last week it said showed the Iranians removing the mine, but has not provided an explanation for why they allegedly did so while the US military was in the area.
The images released Monday show the site where the unexploded mine was allegedly attached, the Iranians on a patrol boat who are said to have removed it, and damage from another device that did explode.
Iran’s atomic energy organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said Monday that the country would soon pass the amount of enriched uranium allowed under the nuclear deal.
“The countdown to pass the 300 kilograms reserve of enriched uranium has started and in 10 days’ time... we will pass this limit,” Kamalvandi said.
The move “will be reversed once other parties live up to their commitments,” he added.
The US now finds itself 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. Ortagus said the world “should not yield to nuclear extortion”.
In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov urged all sides “to show restraint.”
“We would prefer not to see any steps that could introduce additional tensions in the already unstable region,” he told journalists.
And China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned all sides “not to take any actions to provoke the escalation of tension in the region, and not to open a Pandora’s box.”
He urged Washington to “change its practice of extreme pressure” but also called on Tehran not to abandon the nuclear agreement “so easily.”