Trump seeking to avoid war with Iran, say officials

US President Donald Trump said on May 16 that he hopes his country is not going to war with Iran.
US President Donald Trump said on May 16 that he hopes his country is not going to war with Iran.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has sought to put the brakes on a brewing confrontation with Iran in recent days, telling Acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan that he does not want to go to war with Iran, administration officials said, while his senior diplomats began searching for ways to defuse the tensions.

Mr Trump's statement during a Wednesday morning meeting sent a message to his hawkish aides that he does not want the intensifying US pressure campaign against the Iranians to explode into open conflict.

For now, an administration that had appeared to be girding itself for conflict seems more determined to find a diplomatic off-ramp.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the leader of Oman, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, on Wednesday to confer about the threat posed by Iran, according to a statement.

Oman was the site of a secret channel in 2013 when the Obama administration was negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran.

Mr Pompeo also asked European officials for help in persuading Iran to "de-escalate" tensions, which rose after US intelligence indicated Iran had placed missiles on small boats in the Persian Gulf. The intelligence prompted fears that Teheran may strike at US troops and assets or those of its allies.

Asked on Thursday whether the United States was going to war with Iran, Mr Trump replied: "I hope not."

The developments cast into sharp relief a president who is instinctively wary of military adventures, and a cadre of advisers led by National Security Adviser John Bolton who have taken an uncompromising line towards Iran.

The developments cast into sharp relief a president who is instinctively wary of military adventures, and a cadre of advisers led by National Security Adviser John Bolton who have taken an uncompromising line towards Iran.

The internal tensions have prompted fears that the Trump administration is spoiling for a fight, even if the commander-in-chief may not be.

Those divisions are playing out against an internal debate among administration officials about the gravity of the Iranian threat.

 
 
 

Iran dismissed any suggestion of a dialogue with Mr Trump.

"The escalation by the United States is unacceptable," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday.

No new information was presented to Mr Trump at the Situation Room meeting that argued for further engagement with Iran, according to a person who attended.

Mr Shanahan and General Joseph Dunford Jr, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presented the President with a range of military options and ticked off the troop levels, costs and risks of each, one of the officials said.

But Mr Trump was firm in saying that he did not want a military clash with the Iranians, according to several officials.

The President has sought to tamp down reports of divisions between Mr Bolton, Mr Pompeo and the Pentagon.

Military officials have warned against escalating the confrontation, even as Mr Bolton ordered the Pentagon to present options to send as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East to respond to Iranian provocations.

"There is no infighting whatsoever," Mr Trump said on Wednesday on Twitter.

"Different opinions are expressed and I make a decisive and final decision - it is a very simple process. All sides, views, and policies are covered."

NYTIMES

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2019, with the headline 'Trump seeking to avoid war with Iran, say officials'. Print Edition | Subscribe