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September 21, 2019

Trump seeks military options on Iran from Pentagon

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September 21, 2019

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon was to present a broad range of military options to President Donald Trump on Friday as he considers how to respond to what administration officials say was an unprecedented Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry.

International media reported that in a White House meeting, the president was to be presented with a list of potential airstrike targets inside Iran, among other possible responses, and he will also be warned that military action against the Islamic Republic could escalate into war, according to US officials familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity. The national security meeting will likely be the first opportunity for a decision on how the US should respond to the attack on a key Middle East ally. Any decision may depend on what kind of evidence the US and Saudi investigators are able to provide proving that the cruise missile and drone strike was launched by Iran, as a number of officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have asserted.

Iran has denied involvement and warned the US that any attack will spark an “all-out war” with immediate retaliation from Tehran. Both Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence condemned the attack on Saudi oil facilities as “an act of war.” Pence said Trump will “review the facts, and he’ll make a decision about next steps. But the American people can be confident that the United States is going to defend our interest in the region, and we’re going to stand with our allies.” The US response could involve military, political and economic actions, and the military options could range from no action at all to airstrikes or less visible moves such as cyber attacks. One likely move would be for the US to provide additional military support to help Saudi Arabia defend itself from attacks help Saudi Arabia defend itself from attacks from the north, since most of its defences have focused on threats from Houthis in Yemen to the south.

Gen Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emphasised to a small number of journalists traveling with him Monday that the question of whether the US responds is a “political judgment” and not for the military.

“It is my job to provide military options to the president should he decide to respond with military force,” Dunford said.Trump will want “a full range of options,” he said. “In the Middle East, of course, we have military forces there and we do a lot of planning and we have a lot of options.”

US Rep Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich, said in an interview Thursday that if Trump “chooses an option that involves a significant military strike on Iran that, given the current climate between the US and Iran, there is a possibility that it could escalate into a medium to large-scale war, I believe the president should come to Congress.”

Slotkin, a former top Middle East policy adviser for the Pentagon, said she hopes Trump considers a broad range of options, including the most basic choice, which would be to place more forces and defensive military equipment in and around Saudi Arabia to help increase security.

A forensic team from US Central Command is pouring over evidence from cruise missile and drone debris, but the Pentagon said the assessment is not finished. Officials are trying to determine if they can get navigational information from the debris that could provide hard evidence that the strikes came from Iran.

Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Thursday that the US has a high level of confidence that officials will be able to accurately determine exactly who launched the attacks last weekend.US officials were unwilling to predict what kind of response Trump will choose.

The Pentagon said the U.S. military is working with Saudi Arabia to find ways to provide more protection for the northern part of the country. Air Force Col. Pat Ryder, spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pentagon reporters Wednesday that US Central Command is talking with the Saudis about ways to mitigate future attacks. He would not speculate on what types of support could be provided.

Other US officials have said adding Patriot missile batteries and enhanced radar systems could be options, but no decisions have been made.Meanwhile, President Trump announced that he had sanctioned Iran’s national bank, calling them the “highest sanctions ever imposed on a country.”

Trump made the comments to reporters during an Oval Office meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The announcement comes two days after Trump said he had instructed the Treasury Department to increase sanctions on Iran following attacks on two oil facilities in Saudi Arabia.

“These are the highest sanctions ever imposed on a country, we’ve never done it to this level. It’s too bad what’s happening with Iran, it’s going to hell,” Trump told reporters, saying Tehran is “practically broke.”But Trump indicated he did not plan a military response, attacking both critics who thought the mogul turned president would trigger war and hawks seeking a military response.

“The easiest thing I could do (is) knock out 15 different major things in Iran,” Trump said. “I could do it right here in front of you. And that would be it. And then you would have a nice, big story to report,” he said.

“But I think the strong-person approach and the thing that does show strength would be showing a little bit of restraint,” he said. “Much easier to do it the other way. It’s much easier. And Iran knows if they misbehave, they´re on borrowed time,” he said.

The Treasury Department said in a statement that it was sanctioning Iran’s central bank, Iran’s national development fund and Etemad Tejarate Pars Co, an Iran-based firm that US officials said is used to conceal financial transfers for purchases by Iran’s defence ministry.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin joined Trump briefly in the Oval Office to announce the new sanctions on Friday. “We are continuing the maximum pressure campaign,” Mnuchin said. “This will mean no more funds going to the (Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps) or to fund terror, and this is on top of our oil sanctions and our financial institution sanctions.”Iran has denied responsibility for the attacks, for which the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have claimed responsibility.

Meanwhile, despite tense situation, the Trump administration issued visas to Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and the country’s foreign minister to attend the UN General Assembly next week in New York.

US and Iranian officials confirmed Rouhani and Mohammad Javad Zarif, the foreign minister, received visas to attend the UN event. But the US refused visas for some members of the Iranian delegation that had planned to travel to New York. The Trump administration last provided Zarif with a visa to travel to New York in July. On that occasion, it also refused to issue a visa to some of his bodyguards because of alleged connections to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which are under US sanctions.

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