WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - US President Donald Trump has told his acting defence secretary, Patrick Shanahan, that he does not want to go to war with Iran, according to several administration officials, in a message to his hawkish aides that an intensifying US pressure campaign against the clerical-led government in Teheran must not escalate into open conflict.
Trump's statement, during a Wednesday morning meeting in the Situation Room, came during a briefing on the rising tensions with Iran.
US intelligence has indicated that Iran has placed missiles on small boats in the Persian Gulf, prompting fears that Teheran may strike at US troops and assets or those of its allies.
No new information was presented to the president at the meeting that argued for further engagement with Iran, according to a person in the room. But Trump was firm in saying he did not want a military clash with the Iranians, several officials said.
On Thursday (May 16), Trump was asked during a visit by the Swiss president, Ueli Maurer, whether the United States was going to war with Iran. "I hope not," he replied.
The president has sought to tamp down reports that two of his most hawkish aides - the national security adviser, John Bolton, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo - are spoiling for a fight with Iran.
"There is no infighting whatsoever," Trump said in a tweet on Wednesday.
But Trump added he was confident Iran "will want to talk soon," signaling an openness to diplomacy that officials said is not shared by Bolton or Pompeo.
In Tokyo, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran said there was "no possibility" of discussions with the administration to ease the tensions, Agence France-Presse reported.
Pompeo has outlined 12 steps Iran must take to satisfy the United States - measures some in the Pentagon view as unrealistic and could back Iranian leaders into a corner.
Trump is less frustrated with Bolton over his handling of Iran - he favours the tougher measures as a warning to Teheran - than over the evolving narrative that his national security adviser is leading the administration's policy in the Middle East, according to three officials.