By Pooya Stone

Vice President Mike Pence said that the US is prepared to protect their troops and citizens in the Middle East as tensions rise with Iran over the Gulf country’s malign nuclear program.

Pence, speaking on Monday to an evangelical Christian group that advocates for support for Israel, said: “Let me be clear: Iran should not confuse American restraint with a lack of American resolve. We hope for the best, but the United States of America and our military are prepared to protect our interests and protect our personnel and our citizens in the region.”

He said that the US would continue its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, which focuses on economic and political sanctions, and that Donald Trump would “never allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon”.

The speech was a slight departure from his prepared remarks, which had already been released to the press. In his original speech, Pence had planned to say that the US was open to talks with Iran.

He was set to say: “The United States does not seek a war with Iran. We are willing to talk. We are willing to listen. But America will not back down.”

This change could lead some to believe that the US no longer believe that Iran can be reached via talks and that actions, like more sanctions, are needed instead.

Pence made these remarks after Iran threatened a second breach of the 2015 nuclear agreement. Iran has already been confirmed to have exceeded the 300 kgs stockpile of low-enriched uranium and will begin enriching uranium above the 3.67% limit to 4.5%, which is enough to help power Iran's Bushehr reactor.

The US withdrew from the deal in 2018, citing how it favoured Iran above all other parties, and reimposed sanctions. Pence reiterated that the deal only delayed Iran from getting nuclear arms by "roughly a decade" and gave Iran billions in economic relief that they have used to wage terrorist attacks.

Since pulling out, Trump has reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran and designated its Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist group, which Pence said has succeeded in "cutting off" Iran's ability to support terrorism in the Middle East.

However, he did note that Iran has increased its "malign activity and violence in the region" over the past several months, which is why so many US forces have been sent in.

He said: "Iran must choose between caring for its people and continuing to fund its proxies who spread violence and terrorism throughout the region and breathe out murderous hatred against Israel."

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