WASHINGTON/DUBAI– The United States will dispatch 1,000 more troops to the Middle East as defensive purposes, announced acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Monday who cited concerns about a threat from Iran.
Fears of a confrontation between Iran and the United States have mounted since last Thursday when two oil tankers were attacked, which Washington has blamed on Tehran, more than a year after President Donald Trump said Washington was withdrawing from a 2015 nuclear deal.
“The recent Iranian attacks validate the reliable, credible intelligence we have received on hostile behavior by Iranian forces and their proxy groups that threaten United States personnel and interests across the region,” Shanahan said in a statement.
The new US deployment to the Middle East is in addition to a 1,500-troop increase announced last month in response to tanker attacks in May. Washington previously tightened sanctions, ordering all countries and companies to halt imports of Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system.
Iran said on Monday it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under the deal, which a White House National Security Council spokesman said amounted to “nuclear blackmail.”
The 2015 accord, which Iran and the other signatories have maintained following Trump’s decision, caps Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium at 300 kg enriched to 3.67 percent.
But Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said on Monday: “We have quadrupled the rate of enrichment (of uranium) and even increased it more recently, so that in 10 days it will bypass the 300 kg limit.”
“Iran’s reserves are every day increasing at a more rapid rate,” he told state TV, adding that “the move will be reversed once other parties fulfil their commitments.”
The move further undermines the nuclear pact also signed by Russia, Britain, Germany, China and the European Union, but Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the collapse of the deal would not be in the interests of the region or the world.
The nuclear deal seeks to head off any pathway to an Iranian nuclear bomb in return for the removal of most international sanctions.
Britain said if Iran breached agreed limits, London would look at “all options.” Israel, Iran’s arch foe, urged world powers to step up sanctions against Tehran swiftly should it exceed the enriched uranium limit.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said, however, the EU would only react to any breach if the International Atomic Energy Agency formally identified one.