John Bolton: US is deploying strike group to Middle East to send an "unmistakable message" to Iran

Bolton, known for his hawkish approach to foreign policy, says the Trump administration isn't seeking war with Iran

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published May 6, 2019 8:41AM (EDT)

John Bolton; Donald Trump (Getty/Salon)
John Bolton; Donald Trump (Getty/Salon)

Cautioning against war, President Donald Trump's national security adviser announced Sunday night that the U.S. was deploying a strike group and bomber task fore overseas "to send a clear and unmistakable message" to Iran.

"In response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings, the United States is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the U.S. Central Command region to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force," John Bolton explained in a statement.

At the same time, Bolton, who is known for his hawkish approach to foreign policy, said the administration was not attempting to provoke war.

"The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime," Bolton added. "But we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or regular Iranian forces."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted the Trump administration's policy was not connected to reports that Iran had been funding the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which recently sparked an outbreak of violence in the Gaza Strip, according to NBC News. Instead, Pompeo told reporters who joined him on a flight to Europe that "it's something we’ve been working on for a little while."

"It is absolutely the case that we have seen escalatory actions from the Iranians, and it is equally the case that we will hold the Iranians accountable for attacks on American interests," the secretary of state added. "If these actions take place — if they do by some third-party proxy, a militia group, Hezbollah — we will hold the Iranian leadership directly accountable for that."

The naval deployment is the the second aggressive action undertaken by the U.S. against the Middle Eastern country within the last two weeks. Hoping it would make it impossible for Iran to export petroleum, Trump announced in late April that he was ending oil waivers in the economic sanctions against Iran, which is crucial to its economy. Trump's goal is to force Iran to the negotiating table.

"President Donald J. Trump has decided not to reissue Significant Reduction Exceptions (SREs) when they expire in early May. This decision is intended to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero, denying the regime its principal source of revenue," the White House said in a statement at the time.

Early in his term, Trump also withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord negotiated by former President Barack Obama, which had been a cornerstone of his administration's foreign policy in the Middle East. Trump's decision to end the oil waivers was viewed as a furtherance of his reversion of Obama's Iran policy.

"With the announcement today, we’ve made clear our seriousness of purpose. We are going to zero," Pompeo said at the time. "How long we remain there, at zero, depends solely on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s senior leaders. We’ve made our demands very clear to the Ayatollah and his cronies."

Trump also posted a tweet at the time that seemed to place blame for U.S.-Iranian tensions at the feet of Obama's second secretary of state, John Kerry.

"Saudi Arabia and others in OPEC will more than make up the Oil Flow difference in our now Full Sanctions on Iranian Oil. Iran is being given VERY BAD advice by @JohnKerry and people who helped him lead the U.S. into the very bad Iran Nuclear Deal. Big violation of Logan Act?" Trump tweeted.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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