US President Donald Trump would consider using military force against Iran to prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon but questioned using armed forces to protect oil supplies, he told Time magazine in an interview.
While some major Republican figures including former US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter have stressed the need for direct military intervention, Trump told Time that the attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman were “very minor”.
When asked whether the adoption of using the US military was on the table to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons or to protect necessary oil flows, the president said: “I would certainly go over nuclear weapons, and I would keep the other a question mark.”
The US government has accused Iran of being behind attacks against a Japanese and a Norwegian vessel, using a series of images purportedly showing an Iranian boat removing an undetonated mine from the Japanese oil tanker on 13 June.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denied the allegations and tweeted that the US does not have “a shred of evidence” for its claims.
Trump, repeating claims by US intelligence that Iran had launched the offensive, also claimed that the US had seen less hostility from the Islamic Republic since he took office.
“If you look at the rhetoric now compared to the days when they were signing that agreement, where it was always ‘death to America, death to America, we will destroy America, we will kill America,’ I’m not hearing that too much anymore, and I don’t expect to,” Trump said in the interview with Time.
While denying that there is a fissure in his administration on the Iran issue, Trump’s comments are different than statements made previously by more hawkish figures in his adminstration.
Trump earlier slammed the media, particularly the Washington Post, for claiming there was “incoherence” within the cabinet and that the president is frustrated with his top advisers.
“I’m not angry with my people. I make my own decisions, Mike Pompeo is doing a great job. Bolton is doing a great job.” said Trump.
The Trump administration decided last year to pull out of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal, and reimpose sanctions on the country, claiming that the deal did not sufficiently restrict Iran’s capacity to develop nuclear weapons.
The pull out angered the remaining world power signatories.
On Monday, acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced the deployment of 1,000 additional US troops as well as other military resources to the Middle East, in response to an alleged Iranian threat.
“The recent Iranian attacks confirm the accuracy and veracity of the information we have received about the hostile behavior of Iranian forces and their proxies, which threaten the personnel and interests of the United States in the region,” Shanahan said.
The president of Kokuka Sangyo, the marine transportation company that owns one of the tankers that was attacked, Yutaka Katada, claimed that the ship's crew saw “flying objects” prior to the attack in the Gulf of Oman, in contrast with US claims of a naval mine attack.
Iran announced that it will escalate its nuclear program, saying that in 10 days it will breach restrictions on uranium reserves in accordance with the 2015 the Iran nuclear deal.
However, a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that Iran had been fully compliant with the demands of the nuclear agreement prior to the Trump administration's decision to withdraw from the treaty.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini insisted on “maximum restraint” from the US before meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday.
With the exception of the United Kingdom, no European government has accepted the US claim that Iran was responsible for the recent Gulf attacks.