Iraq to send delegations to U.S., Iran in effort to end tensions
Potential for attacks on Americans in region 'put on hold,' acting U.S. defence secretary says
State-run Iraqi media are quoting Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi as saying Baghdad will send delegations to the U.S. and Iran to help end tensions between the two countries.
Abdul-Mahdi, whose country has close ties to both Iran and the U.S., said Tuesday that Iranian and U.S. officials have informed Iraq that they have "no desire in fighting a war."
He said Iraq is "playing a role to calm the situation, but it is not a mediation." Abdul-Mahdi said he will visit Kuwait on Wednesday to discuss regional issues.
The U.S. Congress was briefed about Iran on Tuesday, after which Republican Rep. Mike McCaul of Texas told reporters "there is no intention to go to war in the region."
Earlier in the day, acting U.S. Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan said that while the threat from Iran in the region remains high, the potential for attacks on Americans had been "put on hold."
"I think our steps were very prudent and we've put on hold the potential for attacks on Americans, and that is what is extremely important," Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon. He did not provide further details.
"I'd say we're in a period where the threat remains high and our job is to make sure that there is no miscalculation by the Iranians," Shanahan added.
Some Americans predict war: poll
Half of all Americans believe the United States will go to war with Iran "within the next few years," according to a Reuters and Ipsos public opinion poll released on Tuesday.
While Americans are more concerned about Iran as a security threat to the United States now than they were last year, few would be in favour of a pre-emptive attack on the Iranian military. But if Iran attacked U.S. military forces first, four out of five believed the United States should respond militarily in a full or limited way, the May 17-20 poll showed.
Last week, the U.S. ordered the evacuation of nonessential diplomatic staff from Iraq amid unspecified threats from Iran and rising tensions across the region. The White House has sent warships and bombers to the region to counter the alleged Iranian threats.
In Yemen, meanwhile, Houthi rebels said Tuesday they launched a bomb-laden drone into Saudi Arabia, targeting an airport with a military base — an attack acknowledged by the kingdom as Mideast tensions remain high. It was not clear if there were any injuries or what the extent of damage was.
The attack on the Saudi city of Najran came as Iran announced it has quadrupled its uranium-enrichment production capacity amid tensions with the U.S., underscored by an exchange of threats and taunts Monday on Twitter between Trump and Iran's foreign minister.
Rouhani seeking expanded powers
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was quoted by the state IRNA news agency as telling a group of clerics that he is seeking expanded, wartime executive powers to better deal with an "economic war" triggered by the Trump administration's pullout from the nuclear deal and escalating U.S. sanctions.
Iranian nuclear officials made a point to stress that the uranium would be enriched only to the 3.67 per cent limit set under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, making it usable for a power plant but far below what's needed for an atomic weapon.
But by increasing production, Iran soon will exceed the stockpile limitations set by the accord. Tehran has set a July 7 deadline for Europe to set new terms for the deal, or it will enrich closer to weapons-grade levels in a Middle East already on edge.
Last week, the Houthis launched a co-ordinated drone attack on a Saudi oil pipeline. Earlier this month, officials in the United Arab Emirates alleged that four oil tankers were sabotaged and U.S. diplomats relayed a warning that commercial airlines could be misidentified by Iran and attacked, something dismissed by Tehran.
IRNA did not elaborate on the wartime powers that Rouhani is seeking but quoted the Iranian president as citing the 1980s war with Iraq, when a wartime supreme council was able to bypass other branches to make decisions regarding the economy and the war.
"Today, we need such powers," Rouhani said, adding that country "is united that we should resist the U.S. and the sanctions."