WASHINGTON - The U.S. is sending additional military forces and air defense equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the Pentagon said Friday night.
The announcement came after last weekend's attacks on Saudi Arabian oil installations for which U.S. officials said Iran was responsible, an allegation that Tehran denies.
President Donald Trump “has approved the deployment of U.S. forces, which will be defensive in nature,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said during a briefing at the Pentagon.
Esper said the U.S. was responding to requests from Saudi and United Arab Emirates to improve their air and missile defenses after the September 14 assault, which exposed the vulnerability of the region's oil facilities to drone and cruise missile attacks.
Details regarding the U.S. deployments were to be discussed over the weekend and released next week, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday.
“Secretary [Mike] Pompeo just came back this morning, and the Saudis asked for enhanced capabilities,” Dunford said. “We haven’t decided on specific units,” but those chosen would help enhance the countries’ air missile defenses.
Hours after the U.S. announced the deployment, the head of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, General Hossein Salami, warned that his forces "are ready for any scenario." Salami added: "If anyone crosses our borders, we will hit them."
Also late Friday, the United Nations announced that it has sent a four-member team of international experts to Saudi Arabia to investigate the attacks on the oil installations.
Earlier, Trump announced new sanctions against Iran's national bank Friday, further escalating economic pressure on the Islamic Republic, but pulling back from any direct military action.
"I think the sanctions work," Trump said during a joint White House news conference with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Trump also said "the military would work, but that is a very severe form of winning."
But Trump said he was not planning a military response to the attacks, telling reporters in the Oval Office, “the strong person approach and the thing that does show strength would be showing a little bit of restraint.”
Trump warned, however, that “Iran knows if they misbehave, they’re on borrowed time.”
Trump announced the sanctions as his administration weighs options on Iran, including actions to further weaken its economy, deploying more U.S. troops to the Middle East region and targeted military strikes.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday a U.S. or Saudi Arabian military strike against his country would trigger "an all-out war."
The United States previously imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran because of its alleged nuclear program. But the U.S. Treasury Department said Friday the latest sanctions were imposed because Iran’s central bank engaged in “terrorism” by providing “billions of dollars” to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and Hezbollah.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has often said that any negotiations between himself and Trump can only occur if the U.S. first provides sanctions relief.