Iraq wants to end tensions between Tehran and DC – ‘Potential for Iran threats put on hold’
WASHINGTON, May 21, (Agencies): Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Tuesday that while the threats from Iran in the Middle East remained high, deterrence measures taken by the Pentagon had “put on hold” the potential for attacks on Americans.
It was unclear exactly what Shanahan meant and Pentagon officials could not immediately clarify whether the threat from Iran had been diminished. “There haven’t been any attacks on Americans. I would consider that a hold,” Shanahan told reporters.
“That doesn’t mean that the threats that we’ve previously identified have gone away. Our prudent response, I think, has given the Iranians time to recalculate,” Shanahan said. The US military deployed a carrier strike group, bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East earlier this month in response to what Washington said were troubling indications of possible preparations for an attack by Iran.
Rhetoric between Tehran and Washington has escalated in recent weeks as the United States tightened sanctions with what it said was the goal of pushing Iran to make concessions beyond the terms of its 2015 nuclear deal.
US President Donald Trump warned on Monday that Iran would be met with “great force” if it attacked US interests in the Middle East. US government sources said Washington strongly suspected Shi’ite militias with ties to Tehran were behind a rocket attack in Baghdad’s Green Zone. “I just hope Iran is listening. We’re in the region to address many things, but it is not to go to war with Iran,” Shanahan said earlier on Tuesday. He added that it was a period where the threat remained high and the focus was on making sure there was “no miscalculations by the Iranians.”
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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani rejected talks with the United States on Tuesday, after President Donald Trump said Iran would call and ask for negotiations “if and when they are ever ready”. Tehran and Washington have escalated rhetoric against each other in recent weeks as the United States has tightened sanctions with what it says is the goal of pushing Iran to make concessions beyond the terms of its 2015 nuclear deal.
“Today’s situation is not suitable for talks and our choice is resistance only,” state news agency IRNA quoted Rouhani as saying. Trump said on Monday that Iran would be met with “great force” if it attempted anything against US interests in the Middle East.
He said reports Washington was trying to set up talks were false, but “Iran will call us if and when they are ever ready”. Critics have accused Trump of sending mixed signals. Last week three US officials told Reuters that Trump had told his top advisers he does not want war with Iran. Iran has portrayed the hot and cold rhetoric as evidence Trump is being goaded into war against his better judgment by hardline aides such as National Security Adviser John Bolton. “Right after threatening Iran, they were forced to say they do not seek a war,” Rouhani said in televised remarks on Tuesday.
“Iranians will never bow to a bully.” Rouhani said the country faced “economic war”, and the government needed more powers to control the economy. Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said courts had sentenced 10 businessmen to up to 20 years in jail on charges including “economic sabotage”, the semi-official news agency Fars reported on Tuesday. Iran executed at least three businessmen for economic crimes last year.
As questions mount over President Donald Trump’s tough talk on Iran, top national security officials are heading to Capitol Hill to brief Congress. But skeptical Democrats have asked for a second opinion. The competing closed-door sessions Tuesday, unusual and potentially polarizing, come after weeks of escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf that have raised alarms over a possible military confrontation with Iran.
Lawmakers are warning the Trump administration it cannot take the country into war without approval from Congress, and the back-to-back briefings show the wariness among Democrats, and some Republicans, over the White House’s sudden policy shifts in the Middle East. Trump, veering between bombast and conciliation in his quest to contain Iran, threatened Monday to meet provocations by Iran with “great force,” but also said he’s willing to negotiate. “We’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House for a campaign rally. He said Iran has been “very hostile.” “We have no indication that anything’s happened or will happened, but if it does, it will be met, obviously, with great force,” Trump said.
“We’ll have no choice.” Trump said while there are no talks with Iran he still wants to hear from them, “if they’re ready.” Over the past several weeks the US has sent an aircraft carrier and other resources to the Arabian Gulf region, and evacuated non-essential personnel from Iraq, amid unspecified threats the administration says are linked to Iran. The administration was sending Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and other top brass, including Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, for closed-door briefings Tuesday with both the House and Senate. But House Democrats, deeply skeptical of the information from the Trump officials – and mindful of the drumbeat of claims during the run-up to the Iraq War – invited former CIA Director John Brennan and former State Department official Wendy Sherman, who negotiated the Iran nuclear deal. Brennan, an outspoken Trump critic, does not have a formal briefing planned but is prepared to answer questions on Iran – and is willing to do the same for Republicans, said a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to discuss it publicly. The intent, the person said, is to provide information and not to be partisan.
Iraq will send delegations to the US and Iran to help end tensions between the two countries, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said Tuesday, adding that Baghdad is neutral in the conflict. Abdul-Mahdi, whose country has close ties to both Iran and the US, said that Iranian and US officials have informed Iraq that they have “no desire in fighting a war.”