- The Trump administration has rejected the notion it's moving toward war despite deploying military assets to the region in response to alleged threats.
- Critics of President Donald Trump believe the situation is being driven and escalated by National Security John Bolton, who has a long record of animosity toward Iran.
- Some reports have suggested the Trump administration is planning on sending 120,000 troops to the Middle East as part of a plan to take on Iran.
- Trump rejected these reports, but said he'd "send a hell of a lot more troops than that" if necessary.
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Rising tensions between the US and Iran have sparked fears of a military confrontation and potentially an all-out war.
Democrats, including a number of candidates for the 2020 Democratic nomination, have warned that President Donald Trump and his National Security Adviser John Bolton are "inching" toward conflict.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration rejects the notion that they are seeking a war and Iranian leaders have made similar assertions. But many lawmakers and experts in the US are still concerned.
Here's a timeline of the evolving situation, and a summary of what both countries have been saying.
On May 5, National Security Adviser John Bolton released a statement announcing the US was deploying an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers to the Middle East to counter threats from Iran.
Bolton said that the deployment was designed to send "a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack" on the US or its allies "will be met with unrelenting force." Bolton added, "The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack."
The USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group, which consists of the carrier and its powerful carrier air wing, as well as one cruiser and four destroyers, moved into the region earlier this month along with a number of B-52 Stratofortress heavy long-range bombers.
Suez Canal Authority via AP
A US official said the show of force was in response to "clear indications" of a "possible attack" against US forces in the region by Iran or its proxies.
US Amry/Pfc. Aaron Herrera
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan characterized the deployment as a "prudent repositioning of assets in response to indications of a credible threat by Iranian regime forces."
On May 8, US Air Forces Central Command announced that F-15C Eagle fighter jets were repositioned within the region to "defend US forces and interests in the region." The next day, the Pentagon announced that the USS Arlington, an amphibious landing ship, and a Patriot surface-to-air missile battery were also on their way.
US Air Force Photo
Source: US Air Forces Central Command
Democratic lawmakers have raised alarm bells over these developments. Sen. Chris Murphy, for example, on May 7 tweeted, "Hey everybody, we are at war in 3 different countries Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria and inching toward conflict in 2 more Venezuela and Iran."
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Fears from Democratic lawmakers of a war with Iran are largely linked to their wariness toward Bolton, who's long been hawkish toward Iran and has called for military strikes against it before. Bolton was also one of the architects of the ultimately disastrous US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Republican lawmakers like Sen. Marco Rubio have rejected the idea the US wants a war with Iran, but he also said "any efforts by Iran to threaten shipping in the Strait of Hormuz and/or to target U.S. naval vessels or commercial shipping vessels will result in a swift, devastating & justified response."
Amid all of this, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced on May 8 that Tehran is partially withdrawing from the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal a landmark agreement that Trump withdrew the US from last May.
"We have information that you dont want to know about, President Donald Trump said on May 9 in response to questions on the move. They were very threatening and we have to have great security for this country and many other places. He also urged Iran to hold talks with him regarding its nuclear program.
On May 10, Ayatollah Tabatabai-Nejad, a high-ranking cleric in the Iranian government, warned that US forces will face "dozens of missiles" if any move is made against Iran. The next day, Yadollah Javani, the deputy head of political affairs of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, said that the US "wouldn't dare to launch military action against us."
ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images
Overall, Trump has been fairly vague in responding to questions about Iran. "We'll see what happens with Iran. If they do anything it'll be a very bad mistake, if they do anything," Trump said on May 13, adding, "If they do anything, they will suffer greatly."
The same day, the Trump administration announced new sanctions against Iran targeting its metal exports.
Source: The Washington Post
Meanwhile, reports have also emerged suggesting the Trump administration has discussed a plan to send 120,000 troops to the Middle East if Iran attacks US forces in the region or makes significant steps toward developing nuclear weapons.
Trump on May 14 rejected these reports but also said he's prepared to send "a hell of a lot more" troops than 120,000 if necessary.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on May 14 said his country would not go to war with the US. But in what was perhaps a veiled threat, he also signaled that it wouldn't be hard for Iran to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels.
Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP
On May 14, Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels carried out drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a close ally of the US, which has supported the Saudi-led coalition in the war against the Houthis in Yemen. With that said, it's not clear if these attacks were linked to rising tensions between the US and Iran.
Source: The New York Times
Sen. Bernie Sanders, one of the top contenders for the 2020 Democratic nomination, on May 14 said, "It appears that John Bolton wants a war in Iran. A war in Iran would, in my view, be many times worse than the Iraq War." Sanders said he's "working hard" to ensure that if Trump wants to take military action against Iran he must seek congressional authorization.
Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
Source: CBS News
The US on May 15 ordered all nonessential government staff to leave Iraq. The State Department didn't fully explain the move, but it's viewed as a possible response to the increasingly tense situation between Washington and Tehran. This also came roughly a week after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unscheduled visit to Iraq.
Major General Hossein Salami, the commander of Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, on May 15 said, "We are on the cusp of a full-scale confrontation with the enemy." Salami added, "This moment in history, because the enemy has stepped into the field of confrontation with us with all the possible capacity, is the most decisive moment of the Islamic revolution."
The Trump administration has taken a hardline stance against Iran from the beginning, and defied US allies by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. In keeping with this stance, Trump recently designated Irans Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terror group.