By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — The United States has bolstered its firepower in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, deploying an amphibious assault ship and a Patriot missile battery to counter what Washington sees as a growing threat from Iran.
The Pentagon announcement on May 10 is the latest in a series of moves and countermoves by the United States and Iran as tensions between the nations intensify.
Washington has imposed a series on sanctions on Iranian oil and metal exports to increase pressure on Tehran to give up what it calls “malign” activities, such as attempting to develop nuclear weapons and financing militant activity in the region. Tehran denies the claims.
The Pentagon said the USS Arlington amphibious assault ship will join the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a B-52 bomber task force already headed toward the Gulf after U.S. intelligence reports suggested Iran was planning an attack of some type in the region.
The USS Arlington transports marines, amphibious vehicles, landing craft, and rotary aircraft.
The U.S. Air Force confirmed late on May 9 that the B-52 bombers sent to the Gulf to counter unspecified threats from Iran had arrived at the major U.S. air base in Qatar.
The Pentagon said the deployments were “in response to indications of heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations against U.S. forces and our interests.”
“The Department of Defense continues to closely monitor the activities of the Iranian regime, their military and proxies,” it said.
“The United States does not seek conflict with Iran, but we are postured and ready to defend US forces and interests in the region.”
On May 9, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iran that “our restraint to this point should not be mistaken by Iran for a lack of resolve.”
“The regime in Tehran should understand that any attacks by them or their proxies of any identity against U.S. interests or citizens will be answered with a swift and decisive US response,” Pompeo said.
The Patriot, a long-range, all-weather air-defense system designed to counter tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and advanced aircraft, will be sent to an undisclosed location.
The U.S. military removed Patriot missile batteries from Bahrain, Kuwait, and Jordan late in 2018, but it was not clear if the latest deployment would be to one of those U.S. allies in the region.
The activity comes on and around the first anniversary of Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal and reimpose tough economic sanctions.
Trump has said the deal — under which Iran agreed to restrict its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief — was “fatally flawed” because it did not address Iran’s missile program or Tehran’s alleged support for terrorist organizations.
Despite the rising tensions, Trump on May 9 said he was open to talks with Tehran’s leadership.
“What I would like to see with Iran, I would like to see them call me,” Trump told reporters.
“We don’t want them to have nuclear weapons — not much to ask,” he said.
However, a senior commander of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on May 10 said Tehran will not hold talks with the United States.
IRGC deputy head Yadollah Javani was quoted by the hard-line Tasnim news agency as saying, “There will be no negotiations with America.”