The United States has deployed more warships to the Middle East as tensions continue to rise between Washington and Tehran.
The USS Arlington, which transports marines, amphibious vehicles, conventional landing craft, and rotary aircraft, as well as a Patriot missile defense system will join the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier and an Air Force bomber task force, the Pentagon announced on May 10.
The deployment is “in response to indications of heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations against US forces and our interests,” read a statement from the Department of Defense.
“The United States does not seek conflict with Iran, but we are postured and ready to defend US forces and interests in the region,” the statement added.
The Abraham Lincoln was sent to the Middle East “to send a clear and unmistakable message” to Iran, National Security Advisor John Bolton stated on May 5, adding that they are ready to respond to any attack by Iranian forces or their proxies.
US President Donald Trump later tried a softer line, saying he would like to talk to Iran’s leaders, inviting them to “call me.”
A senior Iranian military officer dismissed both the military threats and the suggestion for talks.
“Negotiations with Americans will not take place, and Americans will not dare to take military action against us,” Brig. Gen. Yadollah Javani, Lieutenant Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for Political Affairs, told Tasnim News on May 10.
“The Americans are in a state of turmoil and anger,” because Iran did not descend into chaos after Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord and imposed sanctions, Javani said. “Because of their desperation, they have done whatever they can to break the Iranian nation’s 40-year-old resistance.”
The sanctions have crippled Iran’s economy, but not brought Tehran closer to meeting US demands that it cease its missile weapons program and end its regional activities. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, pointing out that under the terms of the nuclear deal Iran does not have to perform its commitments regarding nuclear activities if any of the other parties of the agreement re-impose or introduce new sanctions, this week gave European partners to the accord 60 days to ease pressure on the banking and oil sectors or Iran will restart some nuclear activity.
Iranians staged nationwide protests on May 10 in support of Rouhani’s stance.
The new US military deployment comes after an “escalation” of activity from Iran, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explained this week. He paid a surprise visit to Baghdad on May 7 where he met with Iraq’s Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and President Barham Salih, reminding them that Iraq has a responsibility to protect US diplomatic interests and coalition personnel in the country, leading to speculation that the suspected threat may be emanating from Iranian-backed elements within Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).
Baghdad, which tries to maintain delicately balanced ties with both Washington and Tehran, has sought to avoid getting drawn into the crisis, instead pitching Iraq as a place where adversaries can come together and hold constructive dialogue.