Pompeo: US forces in Persian Gulf just a deterrent

Secretary of state says Trump isn’t looking for war with Iran, but American military ready to respond to any attack on US interests

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives to speak during a media availability, at the State Department, June 13, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives to speak during a media availability, at the State Department, June 13, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is not seeking conflict with Iran and its military buildup in the Persian Gulf is aimed entirely at deterring Iranian aggression and threats to US interests and international shipping, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday.

On a visit to US Central Command in Florida just before the defense establishment was jolted by the sudden departure of the acting Pentagon chief, Pompeo said he is confident the American military is acting to confront any challenge. It is prepared and ready, he said, to respond to any attack by Iran on US interests or Iranian disruption of international shipping lanes through which much of the world’s oil supplies flow.

A day after the Defense Department announced the deployment of an additional 1,000 troops to the region, Pompeo stressed that US President Donald Trump doesn’t want war and only wants to re-establish a deterrent to Iranian threats.

“President Trump does not want war, and we will continue to communicate that message, while doing the things that are necessary to protect American interests in the region,” he told reporters at Central Command headquarters in Tampa.

US President Donald Trump, accompanied by then-Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, right, pats Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, after he gives an opening prayer at the beginning of a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, August 16, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Pompeo said he made the trip to Florida to meet with commanders who would be responsible for any operations in the Gulf to ensure that America’s diplomatic and military efforts are coordinated “to make sure that we’re in the position to do the right thing.” The “right thing,” he said “is to continue to work to convince the Islamic Republic of Iran that we are serious and to deter them from further aggression in the region.”

Minutes after his remarks, Trump announced that acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan had decided not to pursue Senate confirmation to take the post on a permanent basis. Shanahan, who said he was stepping down for family reasons, had not been formally nominated for the position.

Meanwhile Tuesday, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, said that while “we do not wage war with any nation,” Iranians will withstand mounting US pressure and emerge victorious.

His comments came after Iran announced on Monday that it could soon start enriching uranium to just a step away from weapons-grade levels, a challenge to Trump’s assurances to allies that the US withdrawal from the deal last year made the world a safer place.

The Pentagon responded by ordering the additional troops to the region, including security forces for additional surveillance and intelligence-gathering.

This image released by the US Department of Defense on June 17, 2019, and taken from a US Navy helicopter, shows what the Navy says are members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy removing an unexploded limpet mine from the M/T Kokuka Courageous. (US Department of Defense via AP)

The US accuses Iran of attacking two tankers near the Persian Gulf; the Iranians deny responsibility. With details murky and no one owning up to the attacks, the Pentagon released new photos intended to bolster its case.

In announcing the new deployment before he resigned, Shanahan said the forces are “for defensive purposes to address air, naval, and ground-based threats” in the Mideast.

“The United States does not seek conflict with Iran,” Shanahan said, describing the move as intended “to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests.”

He said the US will continue to adjust troop levels as needed.

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