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U.S. air defense forces are being deployed to Saudi Arabia

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AP
President Trump speaks during a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the Oval Office of the White House on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019.

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced Friday that U.S. air defense forces will be sent to Saudi Arabia.

“The president has approved the deployment of U.S. forces, which will be defensive in nature,” Esper said at the Pentagon.

The announcement is a response to the Sept. 14 attack on two major oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, which has been blamed on Iran. Saudi officials have said the strike was conducted with explosive drones and cruise missiles, and U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo described it as an “act of war.”

Esper said the weapons were “Iranian produced and were not launched from Yemen,” where Iranian-backed militants had originally taken responsibility for it. “All indications are, Iran was responsible for the attack.”

Iran has denied launching the attack.

President Trump was presented with military options earlier Friday. He has been under pressure from some hawkish Republicans to aggressively respond to Iran, but he has been reluctant to pursue military action.

“The easiest thing I can do, like I could do it right in here, would say: Go ahead, folks, go do it,” Trump said in the Oval Office on Friday. “And that would be a very bad day for Iran.”

He added, “It’s all set to go, but I’m not looking to do that if I can.”

Friday’s announcement comes days before Trump attends the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Tensions between the United States and Iran have been rising since last year, when Trump withdrew from the international nuclear deal forged by then-President Barack Obama in 2015. Trump has pursued a policy of “maximum pressure” by escalating sanctions on Iran to squeeze its economy, and Tehran has responded with increasing provocations such as seizing oil tankers and shooting down a U.S. reconnaissance drone.

More recently, however, Trump expressed a willingness to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Those plans appear to have been put on hold.

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