MIDDLE EAST

Iran threat fueled by photos of missiles at sea: NYT

Escalated warnings from the White House about a threat from Iran came after intelligence showed pictures of boats carrying missiles in the Persian Gulf, according to The New York Times.

The images showed fully assembled missiles outfitted by Iranian paramilitary officers, creating a fear among U.S. President Donald Trump's administration that Iran was getting ready to fire at U.S. forces, three officials told The Times.

The new intelligence report also sparked the decision by the State Department to order the partial evacuation of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and the consulate in Erbil, Iraq.

National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo view the photos as a sign that Iran is planning to attack the U.S.

But the images have caused a divided response in the White House and the Trump administration, with some saying the move may be mostly defensive in nature, against actions taken by Washington that Tehran saw as provocative, according to the newspaper.

"Questions about the underlying intelligence, and complaints by lawmakers that they had not been briefed on it, reflect a deep mistrust of Mr. Trump's national security team," the newspaper said in a report published Wednesday.

Washington's move has taken a series of actions designed to exert pressure on Iran, including re-imposing sanctions on Iranian oil exports and ending sanctions waivers for countries buying Iranian oil.

Over the past few weeks, tensions between Washington and Tehran have escalated as the U.S. deployed a carrier strike group and bomber task force to the Middle East, citing an imminent threat from Iran.

Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced Iran would curtail its compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal that Trump withdrew from in 2017 saying it did not adequately address Iran's missile programs.

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