LONDON – The United States is playing a "very dangerous game" as it attempts to "drag Iran into an unnecessary war," a senior Iranian official said Tuesday.
Hamid Baeidinejad, Iran’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, said the Trump administration made a "serious miscalculation" in deploying an aircraft carrier strike group, B-52 bombers and other military personnel and equipment to the Persian Gulf to counter alleged, unspecified Iranian threats.
Baeidinejad denied that Iran or its "proxies" were behind what Washington described as the "sabotage" of oil tankers in the Gulf belonging to Saudi Arabia, Norway and the United Arab Emirates. Tuesday, Saudi Arabia said drones attacked one of its oil pipelines and other energy infrastructure, an incident that caused global oil price benchmarks to jump.
"We are prepared for any eventuality, this I can tell you," Baeidinejad said. The United States and Iran have no formal diplomatic channel of communication.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, said neither country wants a war.
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"This is not a military confrontation because no war is to happen," he said, according to Iran's state television and a government Twitter account. "We don’t seek a war nor do they. They know a war wouldn’t be beneficial for them."
Baeidinejad said that from the Iranian perspective, it appears that some of President Donald Trump's closest advisers, such as national security adviser John Bolton, are "trying to convince" Trump to start a military confrontation that neither country wants and would be "devastating" for Iran, the United States and the region.
Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented a military plan at a meeting of top national security officials that would send as many as 120,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East in the event Iran strikes U.S. forces in the region or speeds up its development of nuclear weapons, according to a report published in The New York Times on Monday. The plan was partly ordered by Bolton, the report said. It does not call for a land invasion of Iran.
Trump dismissed the report but said he would send U.S. troops if needed.
Since last week, the Trump administration has insisted it has "specific and credible" intelligence indicating Iran or its regional supporters may be preparing attacks against American forces or targets in the region. "It's going to be a bad problem for Iran if something happens," Trump said Monday outside the White House.
The details of that intelligence remain murky; some seasoned Iran experts fear the Trump administration's focus on possible threats from Iran are being driven by hawks looking for a pretext for military conflict.
"We should remind ourselves that this is a TOTALLY UNNECESSARY CRISIS!" Trita Parsi, a professor at Georgetown University and an Iran specialist, wrote on Twitter.
Last year, Trump withdrew from a landmark deal reached between Iran and world powers in 2015 under which Iran promised to curtail its nuclear program in return for relief from crippling sanctions. President Barack Obama viewed the accord as one his signature foreign policy accomplishments. Trump campaigned on abolishing it.
"We're only here cuz Trump quit the deal and put Bolton in charge of Iran policy," Parsi tweeted.
On Wednesday, the U.S. put its military on high alert in neighboring Iraq amid what it said were "imminent threats to US. forces" in the nation. Iran aids a number of Shia militant groups in Iraq, in Lebanon, Houthi rebels in Yemen – who are at war with close U.S. ally Saudi Arabia – and elsewhere across the Middle East region.
The U.S. Embassy in Iraq ordered all non-essential, non-emergency government staff to leave the country right away amid escalating tensions with Iran.
But the threats have drawn skepticism from U.S. allies.
British Army Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, a deputy commander with the Operation Inherent Resolve coalition, said Tuesday during a video briefing from Iraq that "there’s been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria," a statement that was subsequently disputed by the Pentagon.
Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, called Monday for "maximum restraint" from the U.S. after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels on Monday.
"This is politics, and this is about Bolton and others who have had a bee in their bonnet about Iran for as long as they have been in politics," said Robert Muggah, a specialist in international security and co-founder of the SecDev Group, an Ottawa, Canada-headquartered consultancy that analyzes open source intelligence.
Trump has pursued a policy of "maximum pressure" on Iran, slapping the Middle Eastern country with a series of increasingly onerous sanctions that crippled its economy, led to runaway inflation and caused food and medicine shortages. Last week, Tehran announced that it was abandoning two of its obligations under the nuclear deal: exporting excess uranium and "heavy water" used in nuclear reactors. The Trump administration characterized the move as an attempt by Iran to hold the United States "hostage" through "nuclear blackmail."
But Iran's partial breach of the accord was a direct response to the United States ending exemptions from nations that purchase these stockpiles. In other words: Iran took that step to comply with U.S. sanctions.
"The (nuclear deal) is becoming meaningless because of the U.S.," Baeidinejad said, noting that Iran gave the three Western European signatories to the deal – the United Kingdom, Germany and France – 60 days to "salvage" it.
Otherwise, he said, "there will be consequences from our side" that could include suspending modernization of Iran's Arak nuclear facility. Modernization of the "heavy water" plant ensures it will produce less plutonium, which is needed for a nuclear bomb. The United Nations' nuclear watchdog verified 14 times that Iran was complying with the terms of the agreement – even after the United States withdrew last May.
Baeidinejad wouldn't say whether Iran would consider Trump's possible offer to hold talks with Tehran. "I'd like to see them call me," Trump said last week.
Tuesday, Pompeo, who was in Moscow where he met with his Russian counterpart, reiterated that the United States doesn't seek a war with Iran.
That's not how the U.S. military moves looked to some in Iran.
"You wanted a better deal with Iran. Looks like you are going to get a war instead," Hesameddin Ashena, an adviser to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, wrote on Twitter.
Ashena also found room for a moment of levity on the social media platform.
"That’s what happens when you listen to the mustache," he added in the tweet, referring to Bolton, who has bushy white whiskers.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Iran says Trump playing 'very dangerous game,' risking 'devastating war'