President Donald Trump has denied a New York Times report that US officials are discussing a military plan to send up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East to counter any attack or nuclear weapons acceleration by Iran.
"I think it's fake news, OK? Now, would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. Hopefully we're not going to have to plan for that. And if we did that, we'd send a hell of a lot more troops than that," Trump told reporters at the White House on Tuesday.
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The Times reported Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented an updated plan last week in a meeting of top national security aides that envisions sending as many as 120,000 American troops to the region if Iran attacks US forces or accelerates work on its nuclear weapons.
The updated plan does not call for a land invasion of Iran, which would require far more troops, the Times reported, citing unidentified administration officials.
The plan reflects revisions ordered by Iran hawks including national security adviser John Bolton, the newspaper said.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday Tehran does not seek war with the US despite mounting tensions between the two arch-enemies over Iranian nuclear capabilities and its missile program.
In comments to senior officials carried by state television, Khamenei also reiterated that the Islamic republic would not negotiate with the US on another nuclear deal.
"There won't be any war. The Iranian nation has chosen the path of resistance," Khamenei was cited as saying by the state media. "We don't seek a war, and they don't either. They know it's not in their interests."
Trump withdrew the US a year ago from a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and global powers under which Tehran curbed its uranium enrichment capacity, a potential pathway to a nuclear bomb, and won sanctions relief in return.
Since then, Trump has ratcheted up sanctions on Iran, seeking to reduce its lifeblood oil exports to zero, to push Tehran into fresh negotiations on a broader arms control deal, targeting in part the Iranian ballistic missile program.
"(Such) negotiations are a poison," Khamenei said.
Meanwhile a senior British officer in the coalition told a Pentagon news briefing on Tuesday that there has been no increase in the threat from Iran-backed militia against US-led coalition forces fighting remnants of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
But just minutes later, British Major General Chris Ghika, the coalition's deputy commander for strategy and information, declined to restate his earlier remarks and added that they did not represent a divergence from increasingly heated warnings coming from Washington, where officials say they see a growing threat from Iran.
"No, there has been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria. We are aware of their presence clearly and we monitor them along with a whole range of others because that is the environment we are in," Ghika said initially.
The US has sent an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East in a show of force against what US officials have said is a threat to US troops and interests in the region.
"There are a range of Iranian-backed forces ... So it is very difficult to start to delineate between them," Ghika said later in the Pentagon briefing.