Trump tells Pentagon chief he doesn’t want war with Iran

Updated May 18 2019


The president’s statement was meant to apprise his hawkish aides. — AFP/File
The president’s statement was meant to apprise his hawkish aides. — AFP/File

KARACHI: Senior officials in Washington have begun looking for ways to defuse tensions with Tehran after President Donald Trump has made it clear that he doesn’t want a war with Iran, sources say.

The New York Times has reported that during a meeting Mr Trump told his acting defence secretary, Patrick Shanahan, that he does not want to go to war with Iran.

The president’s statement was meant to apprise his hawkish aides that he did not want the intensifying US pressure campaign against the Iranians to turn into an open conflict, said the newspaper.

According to another statement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the leader of Oman, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, to discuss the threat posed by Iran. Oman has long been seen as an intermediary between the West and Iran.

Mr Pompeo also asked European officials for help in persuading Iran to “de-escalate” tensions, which rose after American intelligence indicated that Iran had equipped small boats in the Persian Gulf with missiles. The information prompted fears that Tehran might strike at the United States troops and assets or those of its allies.

When asked on Thursday whether the United States was going to war with Iran, Mr Trump replied: “I hope not.”

The developments have served to highlight internal tensions in the Trump administration and prompted fears that even though the president may not be spoiling for a fight with Iran some of his aides could be.

This is happening at a time when US officials are holding an internal debate about the “gravity of the Iranian threat”. While officials and British allies say the intelligence about the threat is valid, lawmakers and some inside the administration accuse Mr Trump’s aides of exaggerating the danger and exploiting the intelligence to justify a military clash with Tehran.

Iran has dismissed any suggestion of a dialogue with the Trump administration. “The escalation by the United States is unacceptable,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday.

Indeed, there was a new potential flash point in Iran’s standoff with the United States, stemming from its vow last week to step away from some of the limitations imposed by the nuclear deal, a year after the US pulled out of the agreement that was negotiated between Tehran and world powers in 2015.

State Department officials, meanwhile, have set a “red line” that they warn Iran would cross at its peril: It could not ramp up its nuclear fuel production to the point where it would produce a nuclear weapon in less than one year.

The administration officials, however, did not specify what kind of reaction — military or otherwise — would come if Iran built up enough of a stockpile of uranium and took other steps to cross that threshold.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2019