President Trump denied Monday that his administration has devised a plan to deploy as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East in response to Iranian aggression, but admitted that he would be willing to do just that under certain circumstances.
The New York Times reported Monday evening that acting secretary of defense Patrick Shanahan presented a plan to top national-security aides last week that called for deploying tens of thousands of troops to the Middle East in the event that Iran attacked U.S. forces or made any effort to accelerate its nuclear program.
Asked about the report on Tuesday, Trump took issue with the idea that his administration had already devised a plan but conceded that he would not object to the outlines of the strategy described by the Times.
“I think it’s fake news, okay? Would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. Hopefully we don’t 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.
Tensions between the U.S. and Iran continue to escalate amid reports that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and its hard-line allies in Tehran have interpreted the recent troop draw-down in Syria and Iraq as a sign that the Trump administration will prove hesitant to use force.
This newfound confidence among Iranian leaders is evidenced by their alleged attack on Saudi oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates over the weekend. While no definitive evidence has they emerged tying the Iranians to the attack, U.S. intelligence officials said Monday that they are confident Iranian forces are responsible.
Asked about the attack on Monday, Trump told reporters “it’s going to be a bad problem for Iran if something happens.”
Iran also announced last week that it will begin withdrawing from the commitments it made as part of the 2015 nuclear deal if the deal’s remaining five signatories do not step in to shield it from the crippling trade sanctions imposed by the U.S. last year. The plan reportedly discussed by Shanahan last week would, in theory, be set into motion if Iran resumes its nuclear-fuel production, which it ostensibly ceased in 2015 as part of the nuclear deal.