Pentagon sends new wave of troops to Saudi Arabia even as Trump calls for ending wars

The Pentagon is sending a fresh wave of troops to Saudi Arabia to help defend the kingdom against Iran, despite President Donald Trump’s repeated pledges to end the U.S. military’s commitments in the Middle East.

“I have ordered the deployment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of two additional fighter squadrons and supporting personnel,” including two batteries of soldiers manning Patriot air-defense missiles and another Army unit manning a larger air-defense missile system, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters at the Pentagon today.

The latest deployment, which includes two squadrons of fighter jets and three air-defense units, will bring to 3,000 the number of troops the U.S. has sent to Saudi Arabia since Iran attacked the kingdom’s oil infrastructure last month. “The evidence recovered so far proves that Iran is responsible for these attacks,” Esper said, noting that Germany, France and the United Kingdom have reached the same conclusion.

Trump has repeatedly pledged to pull U.S. forces back from overseas entanglements. “We want to bring our soldiers back home. These are endless wars,” he said Monday, in an apparent reference to the continuing U.S. troop commitments in the Middle East, Afghanistan and elsewhere. And yesterday, Trump falsely claimed that U.S. forces have been fully removed from Syria. Roughly 1,000 troops are deployed there.

Along with other deployments over the spring and summer “in response to Iranian provocations,” the new wave of units will push the total number of U.S. troops the Pentagon has added to the Middle East since May to 14,000, Esper noted.

Those earlier deployments included Air Force bombers, early-warning radar planes, drones, construction engineers to build up airbases, and warships. Some of the units deployed to existing U.S. bases in the region, while others, starting in July, reestablished an operational U.S. military presence at an airbase in Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon had pulled out of that airbase, leaving only an advisory presence in the kingdom, after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

An Air Force headquarters unit will also head to Saudi Arabia in the latest wave, the Pentagon noted in a statement. U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East, requested the new deployments.

Esper has also delegated authority to move forces within the region to Gen. Frank McKenzie, who heads Central Command, added Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.

The purpose of the deployment is to “send the message to the Iranians, do not strike another sovereign state, do not threaten American forces,” Milley said.

Esper, meanwhile, described the move as an example of “dynamic force employment,” a term the Pentagon has recently introduced for short-notice deployments around the world, either in response to crises or to flex the military’s muscles in training.

But the timing of the new orders suggests they are aimed at filling an airpower gap as the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group prepares to depart the region. Esper’s predecessor ordered Lincoln and its accompanying aircraft and warships to Middle Eastern waters in May, reversing a Pentagon initiative meant to free up carriers from their longstanding Middle East mission.

Esper wouldn’t comment on the aircraft carrier issue today, saying he wouldn’t “speak about operational deployments particularly with regard to assets like carriers.” But Esper has not signed an order authorizing an extension of the Lincoln’s deployment, Capt. Brook DeWalt, a Pentagon spokesperson, said.

The deployment of Lincoln’s replacement, USS Harry S. Truman, has been delayed until next month due to problems with the ship’s electrical system, USNI News reported.

[Politico]

U.S. sanctions Iran’s central bank, fund after Saudi oil attack

The United States on Friday imposed another round of sanctions on Tehran, including on Iran’s central bank and a development fund, following last week’s attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia that Riyadh and U.S. officials have blamed on Iran.

President Donald Trump outlined the action to reporters at the White House on Friday after first announcing his plan for further sanctions earlier this week on Twitter. 

Iran denies involvement in the attacks, which initially halved oil output from Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest petroleum exporter. Responsibility was claimed by Yemen’s Houthi movement, an Iran-aligned group fighting a Saudi-led alliance in Yemen’s civil war.

Analysts cast doubt on how hard the new measures would hit Tehran given that earlier sanctions have already dried up Iranian oil revenues and cut Iranian banks’ ties to the financial world.

And Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called on the Pentagon to present Trump with a wide range of options that would punish Iran and warned that the United States has “lost deterrence” with Tehran. 

The fresh sanctions target the Central Bank of Iran, the National Development Fund of Iran and Etemad Tejarate Pars Co, an Iranian company that U.S. officials said is used to conceal financial transfers for Iranian military purchases, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement.

“These are the highest sanctions ever imposed on a country,” Trump said. “It’s too bad what’s happening with Iran. It’s going to hell, doing poorly, practically broke, they are broke,” he said. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Washington had now cut off “all source of funds to Iran.”

Trump pulled the United States out of a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran last year and ramped up sanctions to strangle oil exports, a mainstay of the economy. The move dismantled part of former President Barack Obama’s legacy and upset U.S. allies who were party to the agreement, which was designed to restrict Tehran’s pathway to a nuclear bomb in exchange for sanctions relief.

Amir Paivar, a London-based market analyst, said that while targeting a central bank seems important the latest move was mostly cosmetic.

“Iran’s oil export proceeds are usually deposited in Central Bank accounts around the world, therefore the bank has central importance,” Amir Paivar, a London-based market analyst said. 

“But with Iran’s oil exports at a minimum, and with global banks not working with Iranian counterparts, designating the Central Bank again is little more than cosmetic.”

Trump’s wide range of sanctions are part of a U.S. campaign to increase economic pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program and regional ambitions and was championed by former national security adviser John Bolton, who was ousted this month.

Previous U.S. sanctions have also targeted Iran’s foreign minister, its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, space agencies, and various networks Washington has said helped boost Iran’s nuclear program, among others.

“Regardless of transparent attempts to shift blame, the evidence points to Iran—and only Iran,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement following the announcement.

[Reuters]

Pentagon will deploy US forces to the Middle East after attack on Saudi Arabia oil facilities

The Pentagon will deploy U.S. forces to the Middle East on the heels of strikes on Saudi Arabian oil facilities, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced Friday.

“The president has approved the deployment of U.S. forces which will be defensive in nature and primarily focused on air and missile defense,” Esper said, adding that Saudi Arabia requested the support. “We will also work to accelerate the delivery of military equipment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to enhance their ability to defend themselves,” he added.

President Trump has said that it “certainly looks” as if Iran appears to be responsible for the attack, but that he wants to avoid war.

Esper reiterated that the United States does not seek a conflict with Iran and called on Tehran to return to diplomatic channels. He also said that there could be additional U.S. deployments if the situation were to escalate.

On Thursday, the Pentagon called the recent strikes on the Saudi Arabian oil facilities as “sophisticated” and represented a “dramatic escalation” in tensions within the region.

“This has been a dramatic escalation of what we have seen in the past. This was a number of airborne projectiles, was very sophisticated, coordinated and it had a dramatic impact on the global markets,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said, adding that the strike is an international problem.

A CNBC crew visiting the Khurais site that was attacked saw melted pipes and burnt areas which crews were busy repairing. Officials said that 30% of the facility was back up and running within 24 hours, and that full production at Khurais would be reached before the end of September.

The strikes on the world’s largest crude-processing plant and oil field forced the kingdom to shut down half of its production operations. What’s more, the event triggered the largest spike in crude prices in decades and renewed concerns of a budding conflict in the Middle East. All the while, Iran maintains that it was not behind the attacks.

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s defense ministry said that drone and missile debris recovered by investigators shows Iranian culpability. Saudi coalition spokesman Col. Turki al-Maliki said during a press briefing in Riyadh that all military components retrieved from the oil facilities “point to Iran.”

The latest confrontation follows a string of attacks in the Persian Gulf in recent months.

In June, U.S. officials said an Iranian surface-to-air missile shot down an American military surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz. Iran said the aircraft was over its territory. Hours later, Trump said Iran made a “very big mistake” by shooting down the spy drone. The downing came a week after the U.S. blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers in the Persian Gulf region and after four tankers were attacked in May.

The U.S. in June slapped new sanctions on Iranian military leaders blamed for shooting down the drone. The measures also aimed to block financial resources for Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Though Trump has threatened to bring military action or even “fire and fury” against American adversaries, he has also said he does not want to throw the U.S. into another prolonged military conflict. In a tweet Tuesday, Trump called his measured response to the strikes “a sign of strength that some people just don’t understand!”

[CNBC]

Trump Unwilling to Meet With Iran With ‘No Conditions,’ Contradicting Pompeo, Mnuchin and Himself

President Donald Trump said it was “fake news” to say he was willing to meet with Iran with “no conditions” – contradicting both his senior officials and himself.

Earlier this week, both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said Trump was willing to sit down with the Iranian president with “no conditions” or “no preconditions.”

“As of now, there is no plan for the president to meet with him, although the president has said that he is prepared to meet with no conditions,” Mnuchin told CNBC.

“He is prepared to meet with no preconditions,” Pompeo said earlier this week about Trump potentially meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at a U.N. summit.

Trump appeared to be disputing these comments made by Mnuchin and Pompeo … but Trump himself has also said he would meet Rouhani with “no preconditions.”

“I’m ready to meet anytime they want to … no preconditions, if they want to meet, I’ll meet,” Trump said in July 2018.

[Mediaite]

Trump says US ‘locked and loaded’ after attack on Saudi oil supply

President Donald Trump said the United States is “locked and loaded” after an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil supply, but his administration is waiting on Riyadh to determine who launched the strikes before proceeding on a course of action.

“There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification,” Trump said in a post on Twitter.

Trump said he authorized the release of oil from the U.S. strategic petroleum reserve to keep the market well supplied.

Attacks crippled the heart of Saudi oil production over the weekend, hitting the world’s largest crude processing facility and the kingdom’s second-largest oilfield. Aramco, Saudi’s national oil company, was forced to cut production by 5.7 million barrels per day or about 50%. That is equivalent to about 5% of the global oil supply.

Oil futures spiked after the weekend attack. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures popped $6.4, or 11.67%, to $61.23 per barrel. Brent crude futures jumped $7.89, or 13.3% to $68.07.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the attack, but the U.S. has pointed the finger at Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Tehran of launching an “unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply.”

Iran has dismissed those allegations as “meaningless,” “not comprehensible” and “pointless.”

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called on the Trump administration to hold talks. But Trump tweeted on Sunday saying: “The Fake News is saying that I am willing to meet with Iran, ‘No Conditions.’ That is an incorrect statement (as usual!).”

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have escalated significantly since Trump pulled out of an international agreement that aimed to keep Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon. Trump thought the deal wasn’t tough enough and has slapped sanctions back on the Islamic Republic.

Trump came close to launching military strikes against Iran in June after the Islamic Republic shot down a U.S. drone. The president said he called off those strikes over concern about the loss of life they would cause. Four weeks later, Trump said the U.S. navy destroyed an Iranian drone, though Tehran denied that was the case.

Washington has also accused Iran of attacking and seizing oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, allegations Tehran rejects.

[NBC News]

Trump Flirts With $15 Billion Bailout for Iran

President Donald Trump has left the impression with foreign officials, members of his administration, and others involved in Iranian negotiations that he is actively considering a French plan to extend a $15 billion credit line to the Iranians if Tehran comes back into compliance with the Obama-era nuclear deal.

Trump has in recent weeks shown openness to entertaining President Emmanuel Macron’s plan, according to four sources with knowledge of Trump’s conversations with the French leader. Two of those sources said that State Department officials, including Secretary Mike Pompeo, are also open to weighing the French proposal, in which the Paris government would effectively ease the economic sanctions regime that the Trump administration has applied on Tehran for more than a year.

The deal put forward by France would compensate Iran for oil sales disrupted by American sanctions. A large portion of Iran’s economy relies on cash from oil sales. Most of that money is frozen in bank accounts across the globe. The $15 billion credit line would be guaranteed by Iranian oil. In exchange for the cash, Iran would have to come back into compliance with the nuclear accord it signed with the world’s major powers in 2015. Tehran would also have to agree not to threaten the security of the Persian Gulf or to impede maritime navigation in the area. Lastly, Tehran would have to commit to regional Middle East talks in the future. 

While Trump has been skeptical of helping Iran without preconditions in public, the president has at least hinted at an openness to considering Macron’s pitch for placating the Iranian government—a move intended to help bring the Iranians to the negotiating table and to rescue the nuclear agreement that Trump and his former national security adviser John Bolton worked so hard to torpedo.

At the G7 meeting in Biarritz, France last month, Trump told reporters that Iran might need a “short-term letter of credit or loan” that could “get them over a very rough patch.”

Iranian Prime Minister Javad Zarif made a surprise appearance at that meeting. To Robert Malley, who worked on Iran policy during the Obama administration, that visit indicated that “Trump must have signaled openness to Macron’s idea, otherwise Zarif would not have flown to Biarritz at the last minute.” 

“Clearly, Trump responded to Macron in a way that gave the French president a reason to invite Zarif, and Zarif a reason to come,” he said.

The French proposal would require the Trump administration to issue waivers on Iranian sanctions. That would be a major departure from the Trump administration’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign to exact financial punishments on the regime in Tehran. Ironically, during his time in office, President Barack Obama followed a not-dissimilar approach to bring the Iranians to the negotiating table, throttling Iran’s economy with sanctions before pledging relief for talks. The negotiations resulted in the Iran nuke deal that President Trump called “rotten”—and pulled the U.S. out of during his first term.

Trump’s flirtations with—if not outright enthusiasm toward—chummily sitting down with foreign dictators and America’s geopolitical foes are largely driven by his desire for historic photo ops and to be seen as the dealmaker-in-chief. It’s a desire so strong that it can motivate him to upturn years of his own administration’s policymaking and messaging.

And while President Trump has not agreed to anything yet, he did signal a willingness to cooperate on such a proposal at various times throughout the last month, including at the G7 meeting in Biarritz, France, according to four sources with knowledge of the president’s conversations about the deal.

Several sources told The Daily Beast that foreign officials are expecting Trump to either agree to cooperate on the French deal or to offer to ease some sanctions on Tehran. Meanwhile, President Trump is also considering meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September. 

“I do believe they’d like to make a deal. If they do, that’s great. And if they don’t, that’s great too,” Trump told reporters Wednesday. “But they have tremendous financial difficulty, and the sanctions are getting tougher and tougher.” When asked if he would ease sanctions against Iran in order to get a meeting with Iran Trump simply said: “We’ll see what happens. I think Iran has a tremendous, tremendous potential.”

Spokespeople for the State Department, White House, and Treasury did not provide comment for this story. A spokesperson for the National Security Council simply referred The Daily Beast to Trump’s Wednesday comments on Iran. Bolton didn’t comment on Wednesday, either.

Trump’s willingness to discuss the credit line with the French, the Iranians and also Japanese President Shinzo Abe frustrated Bolton, who had for months urged Trump not to soften his hard line against the regime in Tehran

Bolton, who vociferously opposed the Macron proposal, departed the Trump administration on explicitly and mutually bad terms on Tuesday. On Bolton’s way out of the door, Trump and senior administration officials went out of their way to keep publicly insisting he was fired, as Bolton kept messaging various news outlets that Trump couldn’t fire him because he quit. The former national security adviser and lifelong hawk had ruffled so many feathers and made so many enemies in the building that his senior colleagues had repeatedly tried to snitch him out to Trump for allegedly leaking to the media. 

On Tuesday afternoon, Bolton messaged The Daily Beast to say that allegations about him being a leaker were “flatly incorrect.

At a press briefing held shortly after Bolton’s exit on Tuesday, neither Secretary of State Mike Pompeo nor Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin showed much sympathy for Bolton’s falling star in Trumpworld. “There were many times Ambassador Bolton and I disagreed,” Pompeo told reporters. “That’s to be sure, but that’s true with a lot of people with whom I interact.”

According to those who know Pompeo well, the secretary’s public statement was a glaring understatement.

[The Daily Beast]

Trump lashes out at former intel officials for criticism of Iran tweet

President Trump blasted former FBI Director James Comey, former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Saturday for criticism of a tweet Trump sent following a reported accident at an Iranian rocket facility.

The president referred to the three men in a pair of tweets as “failed former ‘Intelligence’ officials” and accused them of scolding him for offering “condolences” to Iranian officials.

“Being scolded by failed former “Intelligence” officials, like James Clapper, on my condolences to Iran on their failed Rocket launch. Sadly for the United States, guys like him, Comey, and the even dumber John Brennan, don’t have a clue. They really set our Country back,” Trump tweeted, adding: “but now we are moving forward like never before. We are winning again, and we are respected again!”

It wasn’t immediately clear what criticism the president was referring to, as the officials had not issued public statements on Trump’s tweet or his decision to release an image taken by U.S. forces of a damaged Iranian rocket facility. Trump has faced criticism from some Democrats for releasing the image due to its high resolution and concerns over whether it should have remained classified.

At a press conference Friday evening, Trump defended his right to release the image, which he said was done under his executive privilege as president.

“We had a photo, and I released it, which I have the absolute right to do,” Trump said Friday. 

“They had a big mishap. It’s unfortunate. So Iran, as you probably know, they were going to set off a big missile, and it didn’t work out too well. It had nothing to do with us,” he added.

NPR previously reported on Thursday that satellite imagery showed an explosion had occurred on the launch pad at an Iranian rocket facility, though it was unclear if the incident resulted in any casualties.

[The Hill]

President Trump Tweets Sensitive Surveillance Image of Iran

President Trump has tweeted what experts say is almost certainly an image from a classified satellite or drone, showing the aftermath of an accident at an Iranian space facility.

“The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir [Space Launch Vehicle] Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran,” the president said in a tweet that accompanied the image on Friday. “I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One.”

NPR broke the news of the launch failure on Thursday, using images from commercial satellites that flew over Iran’s Imam Khomeini Space Center. Those images showed smoke billowing from the pad. Iran has since acknowledged an accident occurred at the site.

Some of the highest-resolution imagery available commercially comes from the company Maxar, whose WorldView-2 satellite sports 46-centimeter resolution.

But the image shown in the president’s tweet appears to be of far better quality, says Ankit Panda, an adjunct senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, who specializes in analyzing satellite imagery. “The resolution is amazingly high,” says Panda. “I would think it’s probably below well below 20 centimeters, which is much higher than anything I’ve ever seen.”

Panda says that the tweet discloses “some pretty amazing capabilities that the public simply wasn’t privy to before this.”

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence referred questions about the image to the White House, which declined to comment.

The image shows the aftermath of the accident, which experts believe took place while the rocket was being fueled. Clearly visible is the truck used to transport and erect the rocket, and the words “The product of national empowerment,” which have been written along the edge of the pad. The picture also shows extensive debris and charring around the pad.

It was not entirely clear where the president’s photo came from. Panda believes it was most likely taken by a classified U.S. satellite. But Melissa Hanham, deputy director of the Open Nuclear Network at the One Earth Foundation, believes that the resolution is so high, it may be beyond the physical limits at which satellites can operate. “The atmosphere is thick enough that after somewhere around 11 to 9 centimeters, things get wonky,” she says.

That could mean it was taken by a drone or spy plane, though such a vehicle would be violating Iranian airspace. Hanham also says that the European company Airbus has been experimenting with drones that fly so high, they are technically outside the atmosphere and thus operating outside national boundaries. But she says she doesn’t know whether the U.S. has such a system.

Glare in the center of the image suggests the image in the tweet was itself a photo of a briefing slide. Panda suggests it could have been displayed on a computer screen in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. It’s also possible it was a photo of a piece of paper.

Either way, Panda notes that a small redaction in the upper left-hand corner suggests the intelligence community had cleared the image for release by the president.

But both he and Hanham question whether releasing it was a good idea. “You really risk giving away the way you know things,” Hanham says. “That allows people to adapt and hide how they carry out illicit activity.”

“These are closely held national secrets,” Panda adds. “We don’t even share a lot of this kind of imagery with our closest allies.” In tweeting it out to the world, Trump is letting Iran know exactly what the U.S. is capable of. He’s also letting others know as well, Panda says. “The Russians and the Chinese, you’re letting them know that these are the kind of things that the United States has the capability of seeing,” he says.

[NPR]

Trump Swipes at Emmanuel Macron Over Attempts to Broker Iran Talks: Nobody Speaks for the US but the US Itself

President Donald Trump said Thursday that the US would not participate in discussions with Iran should France attempt to be the mediator.

” Nobody speaks for the United States but the United States itself. No one is authorized in any way, shape, or form, to represent us!” the president tweeted Thursday. He added that Iran “desperately wants to talk to the US” but is given “mixed signals” by those “purporting to represent” US interests.

The U.S. has been ramping up pressure on Iran in the form of strict sanctions as of late. Sanctions specifically have been imposed upon  Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accusing him of being an “apologist” for the Islamic Republic.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has been asking French President Emmanuel Macron to mediate discussions between the US and Iran regarding sanctions. Iran has reacted to renewed US sanctions aimed at strangling its oil trade by retreating from commitments to limit nuclear activity. Since the US pulled out of the nuclear deal last year,France, Britain and Germany have worked to salvage the deal.

Rouhani’s office quoted him as having told Macron, “Concurrent with attempts by Iran and France to reduce tensions and create helpful conditions for lasting coexistence in the region, we are witnessing provocative actions by the Americans,” according to Radio Farda, the Iranian branch of the US government-funded Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

[Mediaite]

‘I don’t have to do it, legally’: Trump says he can invade Iran without Congress’ permission

On Monday, CNN reported that in a new interview, President Donald Trump said that he can invade Iran without congressional approval — and that although he would “like the idea” of keeping Congress in the loop, he doesn’t “legally” have to do so.

“I like the idea of keeping Congress abreast, but I wouldn’t have to do that,” said Trump. In response to the fact that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said he must obtain congressional approval first, Trump said, “I disagree. I think most people seem to disagree.”

“I do like keeping them — they are intelligent people,” added Trump. “They will come up with some thoughts. I actually learned a couple of things the other day when we had our meeting with Congress which I think were helpful to me. I do like keeping them abreast, but I don’t have to do it, legally.”

[Raw Story]

Reality

https://www.lawfareblog.com/when-does-president-think-he-can-go-war-iran
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