Mideast Tensions Rise Over US Troop Deployment, Iranian Warning on Uranium Stockpile Limits
By Nike Ching June 18, 2019
Tensions in the Middle East continue to escalate as the U.S. plans to deploy more troops to the region and Iran warns it would exceed uranium stockpile limits imposed by a 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran announced Monday it would cease complying with the global agreement that prevents it from making nuclear weapons while the U.S. announced the deployment of about 1,000 additional troops to the region for defensive purposes.
The announcements came after Washington blamed Tehran for Thursday's attacks on two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane. Iran has denied any involvement in the attacks.
The troop deployment comes in addition to a 1,500 troop increase announced last month in response to earlier tanker attacks in May.
Relations between the two countries began to deteriorate in May of 2018 when the U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the international pact under which Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Trump later reinstated and extended tough economic sanctions, leaving European and other partners in the deal struggling to keep Iran in compliance. The sanctions forced countries around the world to boycott Iranian oil or also face the risk of sanctions.
Heightened Iran-U.S. tensions have fueled concerns of more violence in the Middle East, where Iran and its regional rivals have been engaged in sometimes bloody struggles for influence.
On Monday, White House National Security Council spokesperson Garrett Marquis called Iran's plan to surpass an internationally agreed limit on its stock of low-enriched uranium "nuclear blackmail."
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told reporters Monday the international community should not to yield to Iran's "nuclear extortion."
French President Emmanuel Macron said he regrets the Iranian announcement, urging Tehran "to behave in a way that is patient and responsible." Britain said if Iran exceeds the nuclear limits it would consider "all options."
Britain and France signed the deal with Iran, along with China, Germany, Russia, and the United States.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Monday on state television Tehran does not seek conflict and that U.S. efforts to isolate his country have failed.
"Iran will not wage war against any nation," Rouhani said. "Despite all of the Americans' efforts in the region and their desire to cut off our ties with all of the world and their desire to keep Iran secluded, they have been unsuccessful."
Iran's nuclear agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said Monday on state television Iran would exceed the enriched uranium 300 kilogram limit on June 27, but he added Iran would be open to going back to observing the limit if it gets help from other signatories in circumventing U.S. sanctions on its oil industry.
Iran is also angry that the other parties to the nuclear agreement have not done enough to help the battered Iranian economy recover from the sanctions while still insisting Iran keep its part of the bargain.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to meet Tuesday with European Union policy chief Federica Mogherini, a leading supporter of the deal. Pompeo was a staunch opponent of the pact while he was in Congress, but now says compliance is not an issue because the Trump administration views it as fundamentally flawed.
Trump had called the 2015 agreement "horrible" and said he would like to negotiate a new one. But the United Nations atomic watchdog agency says Iran has continued to meet terms of the 2015 pact. While Washington has pulled out of the deal, the other signatories have not.
Carla Babb and Wayne Lee contributed to this report.
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