Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tried to play down war fear amid escalating tensions as US yesterday ordered all non-emergency staff to leave its embassy in Baghdad and consulate in Arbil.
Washington has ramped up pressure on Tehran in recent days, accusing Iran of planning “imminent” attacks in the region, and bolstering the American military presence in the Gulf.
In a speech to state officials, Khamenei on Tuesday said the showdown between the Islamic republic and the United States was a test of resolve rather than a military encounter.
“This face-off is not military because there is not going to be any war. Neither we nor them (the US) seek war. They know it will not be in their interest,” he said, quoted on the Khamenei.ir website.
“The definite decision of the Iranian nation is to resist against America,” Khamenei said, adding that “in this showdown America will be forced to retreat... because our resolve is stronger.”
“Negotiating with the present American government is doubly poisonous... they are not decent humans, they don’t stand by anything,” he said referring to the US decision to withdraw from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major world powers.
Meanwhile, coalition forces in Iraq and Syria sent conflicting signals Tuesday over Iran’s alleged threat, with a British general appearing to take issue with Washington’s alarms over an imminent danger posed by Tehran to the US and its allies.
Major General Chris Ghika, a British spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the coalition fighting the Islamic State group, said that they did not sense any intensified threat from Iran in the region, even though the US military was boosting its forces in the Gulf.
“There has been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria,” Ghika told reporters via teleconference at the Pentagon.
That brought a sharp retort from the US Central Command, which in the past nine days has accelerated the deployment of an aircraft carrier task force to the Gulf, adding to it B-52 bombers, a Patriot missile battery and an amphibious assault ship, in the face of the alleged Iranian threat.
The mixed signals underscored questions about the US ramping up its forces in the Gulf without having explained the intelligence behind the move.
On May 5, White House National Security Advisor John Bolton announced that the Pentagon was sending the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the region “in response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” related to Iran.
Iran has denied planning anything and US allies have warned of the danger of escalation, saying it heightens the chance that an accident could set off a major conflict.
Tensions have sharply escalated between arch-rivals Washington and Tehran since US President Donald Trump withdrew last May from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Since pulling out of the deal, the Trump administration has ramped up menacing rhetoric against Iran while tightening economic sanctions on the country.