WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Wednesday denied a report that the United States was weighing sending up to 14,000 more troops to the Middle East in the face of a perceived threat from Iran.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the possible deployment would include “dozens” more ships and double the number of troops added to the US force in the region since the beginning of this year, citing unnamed US officials.
The paper said US President Donald Trump could make a decision on the troop boost as early as this month.
But the Pentagon disputed the accuracy of the report.
“To be clear, the reporting is wrong. The US is not considering sending 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East,” spokeswoman Alyssa Farah tweeted.
The move would come after a series of attacks on shipping vessels and a drone and missile attack on Saudi oil installations in September blamed on Iran.
Washington has already ratcheted up its military presence in the Gulf and expanded economic sanctions on the country, elevating tensions across the region.
In mid-November the US aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln sailed through the Strait of Hormuz in a show of force aimed at reassuring allies worried about the Iran threat.
In October Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced that two fighter squadrons and additional missile defense batteries were being sent to Saudi Arabia, for a total of about 3,000 new troops.
Earlier Wednesday Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the country is willing to return to the negotiating table over its nuclear program if the United States first drops sanctions, which have hampered the country’s economy and may have contributed to recent domestic turmoil sparked by fuel price hikes.
Earlier Wednesday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for increased action against Iran, indicating that the recent unrest in the Islamic Republic offers an opportunity to topple the regime.
“Iran’s aggression is growing, but its empire is tottering. And I say: let’s make it totter even further,” he said at the beginning of a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Lisbon, Portugal.
“Iran is increasing its aggression as we speak, even today, in the region,” he added. “They’re trying to have staging grounds against us and the region from Iran itself, from Iraq, from Syria, from Lebanon, Gaza, and Yemen. And we are actively engaged in countering that aggression.”
Pompeo, in his remarks, focused on the recent riots in Iran, during which the regime killed scores of protesters demonstrating against increasing fuel prices.
“These are people seeking freedom [and a] reasonable way to live. And they recognize the threat that is posed by kleptocrats that are running the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said.
“So we talked to our European partners about that, how we can together ensure that we do everything that we can to create opportunity for these people who simply want freedom and a chance to live a normal life.”
At the center of Netanyahu’s two-day trip to Lisbon is a planned working dinner with Pompeo, a pro-Israel stalwart and key architect of Washington’s so-called maximum pressure campaign against Iran, which includes tough economic sanctions.
Talks are expected to revolve around the Iranian regime’s efforts to entrench itself militarily in Syria, as well as its increasing violations of the 2015 nuclear deal, including its recent decision to resume enrichment of uranium at the Fordo nuclear facility.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report from Lisbon