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U.S. Defends Gulf Military Buildup, Says It's 'Not Spoiling For Fight'


U.S. Envoy: 'We're Not Looking For War With Iran'
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WATCH: U.S. Envoy: 'We're Not Looking For War With Iran'

BRUSSELS -- Amid growing concerns of a conflict between the United States and Iran, U.S. officials have told their European allies that its military buildup in the Persian Gulf region is a "defensive" move in response to multiple threats coming out of Iran.

Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, told RFE/RL that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered that message to European leaders in Brussels on May 13 -- adding that Washington was "just trying to restore deterrence."

"We're not spoiling for a fight," Hook told RFE/RL on May 14.

Hook said the military assets that the United States has deployed in the Persian Gulf region are part of "a defensive move in light of all the multiple plot vectors that our intelligence community was seeing coming out of Iran."

"If we didn't put in place assets to defend ourselves that would be negligent,” Hook said.

Hook made the remarks after The New York Times newspaper reported that the White House is reviewing military plans that could see the deployment of up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack U.S. forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons.

Some analysts have said that with the growing presence of U.S. military hardware and troops in the Persian Gulf, even the slightest misstep could set off a serious conflict in the region.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on May 13 before meeting with Pompeo in Brussels that Britain, France, and Germany were "very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident with an escalation that is unintended really on either side."

Hook would not comment officially on The New York Times report, but he said any buildup was being made "in order to make sure that we're prepared if attacked."

"We're always prepared if attacked. But in light of the very credible threat-reporting that we were seeing, it was important that we do this," Hook said.

The White House and the Pentagon did not immediately comment on The New York Times report.

'Malign Activities'

Last week, Washington announced the deployment of an aircraft carrier battle group and a bomber task force to the Persian Gulf to counter what U.S. officials called "clear indications" of Iranian threats to the interests of the United States or its allies in the region.

Washington has imposed a series of sanctions on Iranian oil and metal exports to increase pressure on Tehran to give up what it calls "malign" activities, such as attempting to develop nuclear weapons and financing militant activity in the region.

The United States withdrew a year ago from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and has since imposed increasingly strict sanctions on Tehran.

In pulling out of the accord, Trump said the terms were not tough enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and did not address Iran's missile program or Tehran's alleged support for militants in the region.

Hook said Washington and European leaders were on the same page in their assessment of the threat posed by Iran, even if they disagree about staying in the accord.

"So if you look at the record, it's very clear that Europe is also concerned about Iranian aggression,” Hook said.

"They would like Iran to knock it off. They would also like Iran to stay in the Iran nuclear deal so that they never acquire a nuclear weapon. We just think being outside the deal gives us better odds than that," Hook said.

'Psychological Warfare'

Hook also downplayed one point of contention with Europe: a new trade mechanism recently launched by Germany, France, and Britain to allow financial flows to be sent to Iran that would not violate U.S. sanctions.

Known as INSTEX, the special-purpose mechanism focuses on areas not targeted by U.S. sanctions, including pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and agricultural products.

"The Iranians have not put in place the transparent financial system that allows this to be operational, so, I'm not sure it will ever get off the ground," he said.

"We don't see any corporate demand for it," Hook said.

Tehran has accused Washington of engaging in "psychological warfare" with its recent moves.

Iran denies it supports insurgent activity and has said its nuclear program is strictly for civilian energy purposes.

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.