The United States announced on Friday it would send military forces to the Gulf following attacks on Saudi oil facilities, hours after Donald Trump ordered new sanctions on Tehran.
Mr Trump said the sanctions were the toughest-ever against another country, but indicated he did not plan a military strike, calling restraint a sign of strength.
The Treasury Department renewed action against Iran central bank after US officials said Tehran carried out weekend attacks on rival Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure, which triggered a spike in global crude prices.
Those attacks, combined with an Iranian attack on an American spy drone in June, represented a “dramatic escalation of Iranian aggression,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said.
The Pentagon chief announced that the United States would send military reinforcements to the Gulf region at the request of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“In response to the kingdom’s request, the president has approved the deployment of US forces, which will be defensive in nature, and primarily focused on air and missile defense, “Mr Esper said.
However Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford categorized the deployment as “moderate,” with the number of troops not expected to reach the thousands.
Earlier in the day the president attacked both critics who thought the mogul-turned-president would trigger war and hawks seeking a military response .
“The easiest thing I could do (is) knock out 15 different major things in Iran, “Mr Trump said. “But I think the strong-person approach and the thing that does show strength would be showing a little bit of restraint.”
Saudi Arabia on Friday revealed extensive damage from the strikes on state giant Aramco’s facilities in Khurais and the world’s largest oil processing facility at Abqaiq.
The attacks, which knocked out half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production, have been claimed by Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels, but Washington has pointed its finger at Tehran, condemning the strikes as an “act of war.”
Abqaiq was struck 18 times while nearby Khurais was hit four times in a raid that triggered multiple explosions and towering flames that took hours to extinguish, Aramco officials said.
The United States already maintains sweeping sanctions on Iran including on its central bank, with anyone who deals with it subject to prosecution, due to Tehran’s alleged nuclear program.
But the new sanctions Friday were imposed for the additional reason of “terrorism,” the Treasury said, adding that Iran central bank had provided “billions of dollars” to two groups blacklisted by the United States.
Iran responded that the move showed that the US was running out of options.
Mr Trump recently said that he hopes for talks with Mr Rouhani, who responded that Trump must first ease sanctions.
Last year Mr Trump pulled out of a nuclear accord with Iran negotiated under former president Barack Obama, sending tensions soaring as he tried to stop all countries from buying Iran oil.