US will respond with 'great force' if Iran attacks interests: Trump

330 views
US President Donald Trump reacts as he addresses a Trump 2020 re-election campaign rally in Montoursville, Pennsylvania. — Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump warned on Monday Iran would be met with "great force" if it attacked US interests in the Middle East, and government sources said Washington strongly suspects Shi'ite militias with ties to Tehran were behind a rocket attack in Baghdad's Green Zone.

"I think Iran would be making a very big mistake if they did anything," Trump told reporters as he left the White House on Monday evening for an event in Pennsylvania. "If they do something, it will be met with great force but we have no indication that they will."

His comments came as two US government sources said the United States strongly suspects Shi'ite militias with ties to, and possibly encouragement from, Iran fired a rocket on Sunday into Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

The sources, who are familiar with US national security assessments and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the United States was still trying to establish which militia fired the Katyusha rocket on Sunday and the extent, if any, of Iranian involvement.

The attacks include what Saudi Arabia described as armed drone attacks on two oil pumping stations within the kingdom on May 14 and the sabotage of four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, off the coast of the United Arab Emirates on May 12.

Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi group claimed responsibility for attacking the pumping stations.

European and US government sources believe Shi'ite militias based in Yemen or Iraq carried out the attacks in Saudi Arabia and near the UAE, likely with Iran's encouragement.

The two US sources said they are still trying to establish whether the rocket attack, if inspired or directed by Iran, was designed to send a specific signal to the United States.

In what may be a sign of Iranian displeasure, an Iranian news service reported on a fourfold increase in Iran's rate of production of low-grade uranium enrichment.

Quoting an official at the Natanz enrichment plant, the semi-official Tasnim news service said Iran was accelerating the rate of production at which it refines uranium to 3.67% fissile purity, suitable for civilian nuclear power generation.

It was not clear how far Iran's LEU stock was from the 300-kg limit. Under the deal Iran can enrich uranium at 3.67%, well below the 90% purity required to make bombs and the 20% level to which Iran enriched before the deal.

Former US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, speaking to BBC World News television, played down the uranium announcement, saying "I don't know that it's necessary to go into the panic mode yet."

Clapper stressed, as have some other analysts and diplomats, the danger of an accidental escalation, particularly when opposing forces are close to one another. Both US and Iranian vessels patrol in the Strait of Hormuz.

"The thing I would be concerned about is some inadvertent incident that could go incendiary," he said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had warned Iraqi leaders during a surprise visit two weeks ago to Baghdad that if they failed to rein in Iran-backed militias, which are expanding their power in Iraq and form part of its security apparatus, the United States would respond with force. — Reuters


330 views