Dubai - A sudden White House announcement that a US aircraft carrier and a bomber wing would be deployed in the Arabian Gulf to counter Iran comes just ahead of the anniversary of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw America from Tehran’s nuclear deal.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is said to be planning a speech Wednesday on the anniversary to discuss the next steps Tehran will take in confronting the US. Officials in Tehran previously warned that Iran might increase its uranium enrichment, potentially pulling away from a deal it has sought to salvage for months.
The US military has almost always had an aircraft carrier in the Gulf as part of its sprawling military presence in the strategic region, but had begun to scale back its presence as the air campaign against Daesh in Iraq and Syria wound down.
Sunday night’s statement from national security adviser John Bolton said the USS Abraham Lincoln, other ships in the carrier’s strike group and a bomber wing would deploy to the Mideast. Bolton blamed “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings,” without elaborating.
“The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces,” Bolton said.
In Iran, the semi-official ISNA news agency on Monday quoted an anonymous official as saying that Rouhani planned a broadcast address Wednesday and may discuss the “counteractions” Tehran will take over America’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal. It said Iranian officials have informed their European counterparts - with whom Iran has been trying to salvage the agreement - of the planned speech.
“Partial and total reduction of some of Iran’s commitments and resumption of some nuclear activities which were ceased following (the deal) are the first step,” ISNA said. Iranian state television and the semi-official Fars news agency similarly suggested an Iranian response loomed.
A spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Keivan Khosravi, also dismissed Bolton’s comments as “psychological warfare.”
Iran’s hard-line Javad newspaper, associated with the Revolutionary Guard, said Wednesday would “ignite the matchstick for burning the deal.” It suggested in its Tuesday edition that Iran may install advanced centrifuges at its Natanz facility and begin enrichment at its Fordo facility, activities prohibited under the nuclear deal.
The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog says Iran has continued to comply with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, which saw it limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. But American sanctions have wreaked havoc on Iran’s already-anemic economy, while promised help from European partners in the deal haven’t alleviated the pain.