DUBAI/WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump said yesterday he was not seeking war, after a senior Iranian military commander warned that any conflict in the Gulf region may spread uncontrollably and threaten the lives of US troops.
Tensions remained high after Mr Trump said on Friday that he aborted a military strike to retaliate for Iran's downing of an unmanned US drone because it could have killed 150 people.
"I am not looking for war," Mr Trump said on NBC's Meet the Press programme.
Mr Trump said he would impose further sanctions on Iran from today, but has also indicated that he would be prepared to seek a deal to bolster its flagging economy, an apparent move to defuse tensions.
"I think they want to negotiate. And I think they want to make a deal. And my deal is nuclear.
"Look, they are not going to have a nuclear weapon," he added.
"I don't think they like the position they are in. Their economy is absolutely broken."
U.N. CHIEF'S WARNING
The world cannot afford a major confrontation in the Gulf. Everybody must keep nerves of steel.
MR ANTONIO GUTERRES, the United Nations chief, on the need to avoid any form of escalation in the Gulf.
Relations began to worsen significantly when Mr Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six powers, and reimposed sanctions on the country.
The sanctions had been lifted under the pact in return for Teheran curbing its nuclear programme.
Iran has said that it would respond firmly to any threat against it, and warned yesterday of the risks of a military confrontation.
"If a conflict breaks out in the region, no country would be able to manage its scope and timing," Major-General Gholamali Rashid said, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
"The American government must act responsibly to protect the lives of American troops by avoiding misconduct in the region."
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani accused the US of stoking tensions in the Gulf through what Iran has called the violation of its airspace by the US military drone, Fars reported.
Washington said the aircraft was targeted in international airspace in "an unprovoked attack".
"This region is very sensitive... and important to many countries, so we expect international bodies to react appropriately," Fars quoted Mr Rouhani as saying.
Speaking on a visit to Israel, US National Security Adviser John Bolton sought to maintain the military pressure on Iran.
"Neither Iran nor any other hostile actor should mistake US prudence and discretion for weakness. No one has granted them a hunting licence in the Middle East," he said.
Iran is feeling the effects of the sanctions, Mr Bolton told reporters, adding that Iran would never be allowed to have nuclear weapons.
"Sanctions are biting, and more were added last night," he said. "Iran can never have nuclear weapons - not against the US, and not against the world."
Iran may further scale back compliance with its nuclear deal in two weeks unless European countries shield it from US sanctions through a trade mechanism, said Mr Kamal Kharazi, head of Teheran's Strategic Council on Foreign Relations.
"If Europeans don't take measures within the 60-day deadline (announced by Iran last month), we will take new steps," the semi-official news agency ISNA quoted the former foreign minister as saying.
"It would be a positive step if they put resources in (the planned European trade mechanism) Instex and ... make trade possible," Mr Kharazi said.
Mr Kharazi was speaking after meeting Britain's Middle East Minister Andrew Murrison, who visited Teheran for "frank and constructive" talks and to call for urgent de-escalation in the region, according to the British Foreign Office.
Meanwhile, Iranian lawmakers chanted "Death to America" during a Parliament session yesterday.
"America is the real terrorist in the world by spreading chaos in countries, giving advanced weapons to terrorist groups, causing insecurity... and still it says 'Come, let's negotiate'," the Parliament's Deputy Speaker Masoud Pezeshkian said at the start of a session broadcast live on state radio.
The chants, often repeated since the 1979 Islamic Revolution which toppled the US-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, came weeks after Mr Trump said in a US television interview: "They (the Iranians) haven't screamed 'Death to America' lately."
United Nations chief Antonio Guterres warned yesterday that it is essential to avoid "any form of escalation" in the Gulf as tensions continue to rise.
"The world cannot afford a major confrontation in the Gulf," Mr Guterres said on the sidelines of the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth in Lisbon.
"Everybody must keep nerves of steel."