The US is sending an aircraft carrier strike group and a fleet of bombers to the Middle East in response to a “troubling and escalatory indications” of Iranian activity in the region, the White House announced.
John Bolton, the White House national security advisor, gave no details of the threats but said the deployment was “a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on US interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force”.
“The US 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,” Mr Bolton said.
The US announcement came amid reports that Iran is planning to withdraw from parts of the 2015 nuclear agreement on Wednesday, the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s order to pull American out of the international deal.
Iranian media reported that Tehran was planning a partial withdrawal from the deal rather than fully pulling out.
The decision was reportedly made out of Iranian frustration with US sanctions and with European countries for not doing more to stand up to Washington’s efforts to choke off Iran’s economy.
The US is sending the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier, and a group of support ships to the Persian Gulf as part of the deployment. They will be joined by a bomber task force from the US Air Force.
The US has repeatedly warned it will not tolerate attacks by Iran or its proxies against US forces in the region or its allies.
The White House sees Hizbollah, the Lebanese militant group; the Houthis rebels in Yemen; and Shia militias in Iraq as all potential sources of danger along with Iran’s own military forces.
The aircraft carrier departed from Virginia on April 1 and several analysts questioned whether the White House was trying to make a routine deployment to the Middle East appear like a dramatic escalation.
“The US routinely deploys carriers to the Gulf as a show of force intended to deter Iran,” said Becca Wasser, a policy analyst with the Rand corporation. “White House message is piggybacking on planned operations to make a point.”
The announcement came as tensions continued to mount between Iran and the US over the Trump administration’s strategy of bringing massive sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
The US announced recently that it would sanction any country that bought Iranian oil, escalating from its previous stance of allowing some countries to buy Iran’s oil in limited circumstances.
The UK, France, Germany and the EU, which all support the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, said in a joint statement they were disappointed at the US decision to intensify sanctions.
“The lifting of nuclear-related sanctions is an essential part of the [nuclear deal] – it aims at having a positive impact not only on trade and economic relations with Iran, but most importantly on the lives of the Iranian people,” the European powers said.
Iran’s government has repeatedly condemned the US sanctions but also said the EU was not doing enough to make sure that Iran was still able to trade.
The Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), which is close Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, reported Iran was planning to withdraw from certain parts of its commitments under the nuclear deal.
Iranian officials have been hinting at a partial withdrawal for several weeks.
“Iran’s patience is running thin and our inaction towards the consequences of the US exit for the nuclear deal are not limitless,” said Abbas Araghchi, a senior Iranian diplomet.
“This deal has more of a security nature than an economic one and EU must pay its own costs too.”
European and Iranian officials are due to meet on Tuesday to discuss the situation.
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