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Wednesday May 22nd, 2019 12:52AM

The Latest: Trump says US not ramping up for Iran conflict

By The Associated Press
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Latest on developments in the Persian Gulf, elsewhere in Mideast, amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran (all times local):

7:50 p.m.

President Donald Trump is dismissing a report that the U.S. is planning for a military conflict with Iran.

Trump was responding to Tuesday's report in The New York Times that the White House is reviewing military plans against Iran that could result in sending 120,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East if Iran attacks American forces or steps up work on nuclear weapons.

Trump says it's "fake news." He says he would "absolutely" be willing to send troops, but that he's not planned for that and hopefully won't have to plan for that.

He says if the U.S. was going to get into a military conflict with Iran, "we'd send a hell of a lot more" troops.

Trump spoke to reporters at the White House before traveling to Louisiana.

___

6:30 p.m.

The head of the Arab League has condemned attacks claimed by Yemen's Houthi rebels against an oil pipeline and other energy infrastructure in Saudi Arabia.

Ahmed Aboul-Gheit says in a statement on Tuesday that the attacks were a "serious threat to the regional and international security, and the world economy."

He says the Arab League stands by Saudi Arabia to "counter these terrorist threats aimed at stabilizing the region."

The attacks on Saudi oil targets marked the latest incidents challenging Mideast security after the alleged sabotage of two Saudi oil tankers and two other vessels off the coast of the United Arab Emirates on Sunday. The attacks come amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran and the unraveling of the Iranian nuclear deal with world powers.

___

6:10 p.m.

Yemen's Houthi rebels say their drone attack on Saudi Arabia was the biggest since the civil war in Yemen erupted in 2015.

Yahia al-Sarei, a spokesman for Houthi-affiliated forces, said in a video statement that seven drones were involved in Tuesday's attacks against an oil pipeline and other energy infrastructure in Saudi Arabia.

He says the attacks were a "legitimate response on the crimes committed against the Yemeni people."

___

4:25 p.m.

Egypt has condemned drone attacks claimed by Yemen's Houthi rebels against an oil pipeline and other energy infrastructure in Saudi Arabia.

A statement by the Foreign Ministry says Egypt stands alongside Saudi Arabia "to counter all attempts meant to stabilize the kingdom" in the wake of Tuesday's attacks.

The statement says Egypt is coordinating with Saudi Arabia to face "terror and all threats to its national security."

The attacks on Saudi oil targets marked the latest incidents challenging Mideast security after the alleged sabotage of two Saudi oil tankers and two other vessels off the coast of the United Arab Emirates on Sunday amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran and the unraveling of the Iranian nuclear deal with world powers.

___

4 p.m.

Spain's defense minister says the government's decision to remove a Spanish frigate from a U.S.-led combat fleet approaching the Persian Gulf was taken for "technical reasons" and had no political motive.

Defense Minister Margarita Robles said on Tuesday the decision "is not an expression of distaste" over the crossing into the Strait of Hormuz of the fleet headed by the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier.

The U.S. fleet is heading to the Persian Gulf as tension mounts between the United States and Iran.

Robles told reporters the Gulf mission was not included in a cooperation agreement signed two years ago that placed the Méndez Núñez frigate on a training mission with the U.S. fleet.

She says the frigate will return to the fleet once normal operations resume, declining to give an opinion about the U.S. policy toward Iran.

Spanish media, citing government sources, said Spain is concerned it could be dragged to an unwanted conflict as a result of the crisis between Washington and Teheran surrounding the unraveling nuclear deal.

___

3:40 p.m.

Iran's foreign minister says the sabotage attack on oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates this week was meant to stir up wider conflict in the region.

Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke on Tuesday while visiting New Delhi for meetings with Indian officials. He says they discussed the recent incidents of "suspicious activities and sabotage in the region."

Zarf says he had "previously predicted this sort of activities, aimed at escalating tension in the region."

The official IRNA news agency also quoted Zarif as saying he discussed the dangers imposed by "hard-liners in the U.S. administration and the region." He did not elaborate.

Zarif regularly accuses the Trump administration, Israel and Saudi Arabia of pushing the region into war.

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3:05 p.m.

Yemen's Houthi rebels say their drone assault on Saudi Arabia was meant to send a message to the kingdom to "stop your aggression" on Yemen.

The spokesman of the rebels, Mohammed Abdel-Salam, says the Houthis launched a series of drone attacks on Tuesday on the kingdom.

He told The Associated Press: "This is a message to Saudi Arabia, stop your aggression."

Abdel-Salam also says: "Our goal is to respond to the crimes they are committing every day against the Yemeni people."

Yemen has been devastated by a brutal civil war in which the Houthis, who have occupied the capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen, are battling government troops, backed by a Saudi-led coalition.

___

2:35 p.m.

Saudi Arabia says oil infrastructure sites belonging to the country's state-run oil company Aramco have been targeted and that at least one of the attacks was carried out by drone strikes.

The announcement came shortly after Yemen's Houthi rebels claimed an assault on the kingdom.

The state Saudi Press Agency quoted Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih as saying that between 6-6:30 a.m. on Tuesday, a petroleum pumping station supplying an east-west pipeline between the Eastern Province and to the Yanbu Port on the Red Sea was targeted by drones.

He says a fire broke out at a station along the pipeline and was subsequently put out. Aramco has temporarily stopped pumping petroleum through the pipeline until inspection of the damage is complete.

The kingdom's state security body also says two oil infrastructure sites in the greater region of Riyadh, its landlocked capital, were targeted at the same time. The statement described it as a "limited targeting" of petroleum stations in areas al-Duadmi and Afif in Riyadh region.

___

11:50 a.m.

Spain has temporarily pulled out a frigate that was part of a U.S.-led combat fleet from waters near the Persian Gulf, where tensions are mounting between the United States and Iran.

The Spanish Ministry of Defense says the Méndez Núñez frigate, with 215 sailors on board, will not cross the Strait of Hormuz into the Gulf together with the fleet headed by the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier.

The Ministry declined to elaborate on the reasons of the sudden change.

Spanish media, citing government sources, said Spain is concerned that it could be dragged to an unwanted conflict as a result of the crisis between Washington and Teheran surrounding the unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.

The Spanish frigate was the only non-U.S. vessel in the fleet, which is scheduled to sail to California in late October.

___

7:50 a.m.

New satellite photos obtained by The Associated Press show the oil tankers that Gulf officials alleged were the targets of "sabotage" off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

The images, provided on Tuesday by Colorado-based Maxar Technologies, show the oil tankers. Two are from Saudi Arabia, one is Norwegian and the other is Emirati.

A boom surrounds the Emirati oil tanker, suggesting officials worry about an oil leak from the vessel.

Otherwise, the vessels do not show signs of massive damage. The Norwegian ship sustained a hole just above its hull in the incident.

A U.S. official, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation, said all the ships sustained similar damage.

—Lolita C. Baldor in Washington;

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