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Global worries grow over US-Iran standoff

May 16, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C.: International worries that the Trump administration is sliding toward war with Iran flared into the open amid skepticism about its claims that the Islamic Republic poses a growing threat to the US and its allies in the Persian Gulf and beyond.

The US military on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) rebutted doubts expressed by a British general about such a threat. President Donald Trump denied a report that the administration has updated plans to send more than 100,000 troops to counter Iran if necessary. But Trump then stirred the controversy further by saying: “Would I do that? Absolutely.”

President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday May 14, 2019, before boarding Marine One for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md. to travel to Louisiana. AP PHOTO

The general’s remarks exposed international skepticism over the American military build-up in the Middle East, a legacy of the 2003 invasion of Iraq that was predicated on false intelligence. US officials have not publicly provided any evidence to back up claims of an increased Iranian threat amid other signs of allied unease.

As tensions in the region started to surge, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said his nation was worried about the risk of accidental conflict “with an escalation that is unintended really on either side.” Then on Tuesday, Spain temporarily pulled one of its frigates from the US-led combat fleet heading toward the Strait of Hormuz. That was followed by the unusual public challenge to the Trump administration by the general.

“No, there’s been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria,” said Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika, a senior officer in the US-backed coalition fighting the Islamic State group. Ghika, speaking in a video conference from coalition headquarters in Baghdad, told reporters at the Pentagon that the coalition monitors the presence of Iranian-backed forces “along with a whole range of others because that’s the environment we’re in.”

But he added, “There are a substantial number of militia groups in Iraq and Syria, and we don’t see any increased threat from any of them at this stage.”

Late in the day, in a rare public rebuttal of an allied military officer, US Central Command said Ghika’s remarks “run counter to the identified credible threats” from Iranian-backed forces in the Mideast. 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 US forces in Iraq,” the statement said.

At the White House, Trump, who has repeatedly argued for avoiding long-term conflicts in the Mideast, discounted a New York Times report that the US has updated plans that could send up to 120,000 troops to counter Iran if it attacked American forces.

“Would I do that? Absolutely,” he told reporters. “But we have not planned for that. Hopefully we’re not going to have to plan for that. If we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.”

Meanwhile, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ruled out any talks with the US government over the disputed issues, Tasnim news agency reported.

The US wants Iran to negotiate over its “defensive weapon” and to reduce the range of its missiles, while urging Iran to talk over its regional strategy, the Iranian leader was quoted as saying.

“Therefore, the talks [over theses issues] are basically wrong,” Khamenei said, stressing that holding “talks with Washington, particularly with the current US government, is poisonous.”

Washington seeks to seal a new nuclear deal with Iran, which will further curb Iran’s nuclear program, stop Iran’s ballistic missile development, and halt Iran’s push for influence in the region.

“None of our wise people [inside Iran] seeks talks with the United States,” said Khamenei.

“Iranians’ ultimate option is to resist the US pressures, and in this confrontation Americans will have to retreat,” he said.

AP/Global Times

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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