Thursday, February 2, 2017

Trump puts Iran "officially on notice" after missile test

The Trump administration has said it was “officially putting Iran on notice” in reaction to an Iranian missile test and an attack on a Saudi warship by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen but gave no details about how Washington intended to respond.

The threat was made on Wednesday by the national security adviser, Michael Flynn, in his first public statement since taking office.

Speaking in the White House briefing room, Flynn said a missile launch on Sunday and a Houthi attack on a Saudi frigate on Monday underlined Iran’s “destabilizing behavior across the Middle East.”.

Flynn did not specify how the new administration would respond. Asked for clarification, the White House spokesman, Sean Spicer, said the president wanted to make sure the Iranians “understood we are not going to sit by and not act on their actions”.

At a White House briefing, senior administration officials repeatedly refused to rule out any options for a US response, including military intervention.

“There are a large number of options available to the administration,” one senior official said. “We’re going to take appropriate action.”

Asked if measures under consideration included a military option, the official replied: “We are considering a whole range of options.”

The official declined to say whether the White House had sent a message to Tehran putting it on notice.

“We are in the second week. We do not want to be premature or rash or take any action that would foreclose options or unnecessarily contribute to a negative response.”

The announcement was not accompanied by any change in the US military stance in the region, nor any immediate additional deployments.

“We saw the statement as well,” said a spokesman for US central command, which runs operations in the Middle East. “This is still at the policy level, and we are waiting for something to come down the line. We have not been asked to change anything operationally in the region.”

The Pentagon was informed before the announcement and the defense secretary, James Mattis, prevailed upon Flynn to soften his language about Iran from an earlier version. At the time of the Flynn’s statement, Mattis was en route to Asia for an official visit to Japan and South Korea.

Ali Vaez, an Iran expert at the International Crisis Group in Washington, said: “It’s either an empty threat or a clear statement of intent to go to war with Iran. Both are reckless and dangerous ... In an attempt to look strong, the administration could stumble into a war that would make the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts look like a walk in the park.”

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