Pentagon orders more troops for Iran and tensions escalate
Tensions between the United States and Iran flared on Monday as Tehran said it would soon breach a key element of the 2015 international pact limiting its nuclear program, while President Trump ordered another 1.000 troops to the Middle East and vowed again that Iran would not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon.
The Pentagon’s announcement of the troop deployment came three days after attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman that the administration has blamed Iran for. And it came hours after Iran said it was within days of violating a central element of the landmark 2015 agreement – intended to curb its ability to develop a nuclear weapon – unless European nations agreed to help it blunt crippling American economic sanctions.
Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said that within 10 days the country will have produced and kept in its stockpiles more low-enriched uranium – the sort used to fuel power plants – than allowed by the 2015 containment deal. The agency also left open the possibility that it might soon begin enriching the uranium to higher levels of purity, edging it closer to what would be necessary to build a nuclear weapon.
Iran now on the verge of breaching the deal with the US
Trump pulled out of the 2015 pact last year, saying that it was not tough enough on Iran. In doing so, he put intense strain on the international coalition that had backed the agreement and wanted to keep it alive. And he left Iran trapped between continuing to abide by the deal’s provisions without getting any of its benefits or abandoning it and provoking a more intense conflict with the United States.
With Iran now on the verge of breaching the deal, the White House called for greater international pressure on the country, even as European officials urged restraint between the two longtime adversaries.
A spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said that the country would soon exceed the limits on nuclear fuel it is permitted to have under the 2015 nuclear deal.
“President Trump has made it clear he will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons,”the National Security Council said in a statement.
The additional 1.000 troops being sent to the region comes on top of 1.500 dispatched in May. They will be used mainly for surveillance of Iranian activities and protecting American forces already in the Middle East. The Pentagon had considered plans for deployment of up to 6.000 additional troops.
“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,”the acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, said in a statement.
The announcement from Tehran was Iran’s latest signal that it would abandon the 2015 pact unless other signatories help it offset economic sanctions imposed by Trump. The threat seemed aimed primarily at European countries to persuade them to break with Washington and restore to Tehran some of the economic benefits of the deal.
Iran had been abiding by the terms of the nuclear deal, negotiated under President Barack Obama, before Trump pulled out, and has continued to do so since the withdrawal by the United States. But as American sanctions have squeezed the Iranian economy, Tehran has warned that it could not remain in the deal without getting European help to find workarounds to the sanctions.
“This was an entirely predictable consequence of the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and maximum pressure strategy.. In practice, maximum pressure has produced maximum peril and minimum strategic results.”said Ali Vaez, the director of the Iran project at the International Crisis Group, a conflict-resolution organization.
The mechanism of American sanctions may actually have sped Iran to the point where its stockpile of uranium is on the verge of violating the 2015 agreement’s terms. In May, the State Department announced that it might penalize countries that transfer enriched uranium out of Iran.
Until now, Iran has shipped most of the low-enriched uranium it produces out of the country, swapping it for natural uranium. That allows it to continue producing small amounts of nuclear fuel for civilian power plants without building up a stockpile for potential use in weapons.
During a news conference announcing Tehran’s decision, Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said Iran might also enrich its uranium up to 20% purity for use in reactors, the Iranian state-run news organization Press TV reported.
He said that uranium would be used as fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, which the United States supplied to Iran in 1967 and that Iranian officials say is used to create medical isotopes for use in cancer treatment.
The nuclear agreement limits the level of enrichment to 3.67%, but if Iran began producing 20% enriched uranium, it would put the country much closer to weapons-grade levels.
Members of Congress braced themselves for a potential fight with Trump over authorization for military action.