Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday plans to meet with U.S. military commanders overseeing American forces in the Middle East after promising to provide more proof that Iran was behind attacks on two oil tankers last week, three U.S. officials told NBC News.
Pompeo was due to fly to U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., according to the U.S. officials, amid mounting tensions with Iran following the attacks on two commercial ships last week in the Gulf of Oman, which the Trump administration has blamed on Iran.
A U.S. defense official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, told NBC News that Pompeo's visit to Central Command was previously scheduled and not arranged as a result of the attacks last week on the two tankers.
The State Department did not respond to requests for comment.
The secretary of state said on CBS "Face the Nation" on Sunday that the administration was considering a "full range of options" to deter Iran. Asked if military action was among those options, Pompeo said: "Of course."
Former U.S. officials and regional experts say the Trump administration will likely weigh deploying more aircraft and other resources to expand surveillance and intelligence gathering over shipping routes in and around the strategic Strait of Hormuz. About 30 percent of the world's sea-borne crude oil passes through the narrow strait, a choke point that lies along Iran's coast.
Pompeo met with acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Thursday after publicly accusing Iran of carrying out the attacks on the two ships in the Gulf of Oman.
Iran has vehemently denied any role in the attacks on the tankers.
Officials in Japan, Germany and the European Union have indicated more information is required before concluding that Iran orchestrated the explosions that crippled the two tankers, forcing crews on ships to evacuate. One ship was Norwegian-owned and the other was Japanese-owned.
The Pentagon released a grainy video last week that it says shows an Iranian patrol boat crew removing an item from one of the commercial ships that the administration says is an unexploded mine.
Following the release of the clip, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas appealed for more information on the incident, saying the video was "not enough."
But Pompeo rejected suggestions that the U.S. assessment was in doubt. "The German foreign minister has seen a great deal more than just that video," Pompeo said on CBS. "He will continue to see more."
Iran is under growing economic pressure after the Trump administration imposed a global embargo on Tehran's oil exports. The country faces rampant inflation and political leaders are threatening to abandon a 2015 nuclear agreement signed with world powers if it does not see some economic relief from European governments soon.
On Monday, Iran said it would violate limits on its stock of low-enriched uranium in 10 days, breaching a provision of the nuclear deal.
"We have quadrupled the rate of enrichment and even increased it more recently, so that in 10 days it will bypass the 300 kg (661 pounds) limit," Iran's Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said on state TV.
But he also said there was still time for European states to rescue the nuclear accord by delivering some economic benefits to Iran.
The nuclear accord imposed limits on Iran's atomic program designed to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons in return for lifting international and some U.S. sanctions. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement last year but European governments have urged Iran to abide by the deal.
The sanctions imposed by Trump on Iran have put the country under intense pressure, and the regime is looking for ways to relieve the economic pain, including by pressing other countries to push back against Washington's tough approach, said Michael Knights of the Washington Institute think tank.
"This is a nasty chokehold. And the Iranians are going to do anything to get out of it," Knights said.