By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - U.S. President Donald Trump does not want war with Iran, his top diplomat said Tuesday as Washington prepared to send 1,000 more troops to the Middle East amid heightened tensions.
Addressing reporters at U.S. Central Command in Florida, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. and Iran "have been engaged in many messages" to reduce tensions in the Persian Gulf.
Pompeo pointed to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Tehran last week, saying Trump "sent" the premier "to take a message of his to the leadership in Iran."
"President Trump does not want war, and we will continue to communicate that message, while doing the things that are necessary to protect American interests in the region," he said.
The U.S. and Iran do not have diplomatic relations, and normally pass diplomatic notes through a third party interlocutor. Switzerland usually fulfills that role, facilitating diplomatic issues between the rivals.
The U.S. announced Monday it is sending an additional 1,000 troops to the region "for defensive purposes," citing recent attacks on commercial ships the U.S. blamed on Iran and alleged increased threats from Tehran and its proxy forces.
"The recent Iranian attacks validate the reliable, credible intelligence we have received on hostile behavior by Iranian forces and their proxy groups that threaten United States personnel and interests across the region," said outgoing Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.
"The action today is being taken to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests," he added.
Tensions have been steadily rising between the U.S. and Iran since May 2018 when Trump unilaterally withdrew from an international accord meant to place restrictions on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for relief from international sanctions.
Trump took the action despite warnings from the pact's other signatories -- the five permanent members of the UN security Council, Germany and the EU -- that doing so would increase tensions with Iran and could lead to an unnecessary conflict.
The U.S. has since embarked upon a diplomatic and economic campaign to ramp up pressure on Iran to force it to renegotiate the agreement, and other behavior not covered by the original pact that the administration views as destabilizing behavior.
Part of its campaign has included the reimposition of U.S. sanctions on exports of Iranian crude oil, which has sent the Iranian economy into a nosedive.