WASHINGTON/GENEVA • United States President Donald Trump stressed yesterday he was "not talking boots on the ground" should military action be necessary against Iran, and said any conflict would not last long.
Asked if a war with Iran was brewing, Mr Trump told Fox Business Network: "I hope we don't, but we're in a very strong position if something should happen."
He added: "I'm not talking boots on the ground. I'm just saying if something would happen, it wouldn't last very long."
The comments come just days after Mr Trump cancelled air strikes minutes before impact, with allies warning that the increase in tensions since the US pulled out of a nuclear pact with Iran last year could accidentally lead to war.
Seeking to rein in soaring tensions between the two countries, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said yesterday that Iran "never seeks war" with the US.
"Iran has no interest to increase tension in the region and it never seeks war with any country, including the US," said Mr Rouhani, as quoted by the state's Islamic Republic News Agency (Irna).
I hope we don't, but we're in a very strong position if something should happen.
U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, on whether a war with Iran is brewing.
NOT LOOKING FOR WAR
Iran has no interest to increase tension in the region and it never seeks war with any country, including the US.
IRANIAN PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI, seeking to rein in tensions between the US and Iran.
He was speaking by telephone to French President Emmanuel Macron. Mr Rouhani said: "We have always been committed to regional peace and stability, and will make efforts in this respect."
Iran suggested it was just one day from breaching a threshold in the deal that limited its stockpile of uranium, a move that would put pressure on European countries that have tried to remain neutral to pick sides. The fate of the 2015 nuclear deal, under which Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear programme in return for access to global trade, has been at the heart of the dispute which has escalated and taken on a military dimension in recent weeks.
Washington sharply tightened sanctions last month, aiming to bar all international sales of Iranian oil. It accuses Iran of being behind bomb attacks on ships in the Gulf, whichTeheran denies.
Although the US and Iran both said they do not want war, last week's aborted US strikes have been followed by menacing rhetoric on both sides.
On Tuesday, Mr Trump threatened the "obliteration" of parts of Iran if it struck US interests.
Mr Rouhani, who normally presents Teheran's mild-mannered face, labelled White House policy as "mentally retarded".
The stand-off creates a challenge for Washington which, after quitting the nuclear deal against the advice of European allies, is now seeking their support to force Iran to comply with it.
Over the past few weeks, Iran has set a number of deadlines for European countries to protect its economy from the impact of US sanctions or see Teheran reduce compliance with the deal.
A spokesman for Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation said yesterday that one of those deadlines would expire today, with Iran potentially exceeding a limit imposed under the deal to keep its stockpile of enriched uranium below 300kg.
"The deadline of the Atomic Energy Organisation for passing the production of enriched uranium from the 300kg limit will end tomorrow," the IRIB news agency quoted spokesman Behrouz Kamalvindi as saying yesterday. He added that after the deadline, Iran would speed up its rate of producing the material.
Another threshold bars Iran from enriching uranium to a purity beyond 3.67 per cent fissile material. It has set a deadline of July 7, after which it could also breach that limit.
Any such moves would put European countries opposing Mr Trump's tactics under pressure to take action. They have tried to salvage the nuclear deal by promising to provide Teheran with economic benefits to offset the harm from US sanctions. But so far they have failed, with Iran largely shut from oil markets and all major European companies cancelling plans to invest.
Teheran said it would be Washington's fault if it exceeds the 300kg stockpile threshold. The 2015 deal allows Iran to sell excess uranium abroad to keep its stockpile below the limit, but such sales have been blocked by US sanctions.
The Trump administration said the deal reached under former president Barack Obama is too weak as it is not permanent and does not cover issues outside of the nuclear area. US officials said new sanctions are necessary to force Iran back to the negotiating table, and Mr Trump is open to talks without pre-conditions.
Iran said talks are impossible unless Washington lifts sanctions first.
Teheran said a further move by Washington this week to impose personal sanctions on Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and threaten them against Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had closed off diplomacy permanently.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE