WASHINGTON (Dispatches) – U.S. President Donald Trump has told the acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan and his other aides that he does not want to go to war with Iran, administration officials said.
"Trump’s statement, during a Wednesday morning meeting in the Situation Room, sent a message to his hawkish aides that he does not want the intensifying American pressure campaign against the Iranians to explode into open conflict,” the New York Times reported.
For now, an administration seems more determined to find a diplomatic off-ramp, the newspaper said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the leader of Oman, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, on Wednesday to confer about Iran, according to a statement. Oman has long been an intermediary between the West and Iran in the absence of any diplomatic relations since 1979.
Pompeo also asked European officials for help in persuading Iran to "de-escalate” tensions, which rose after the U.S. sent an aircraft carrier group and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf last week.
Asked on Thursday whether the United States was going to war with Iran, Trump replied, "I hope not.”
Reuters, citing three unnamed U.S. officials, also said Trump had told his top advisers he does not want to get the United States involved in a war with Iran.
"He doesn’t want to go to war. It’s not who he is,” it quoted one official as saying.
Trump has communicated to his national security team and other aides that he wants to keep tensions with Tehran from boiling over into an armed conflict, the officials reportedly said.
Trump won the 2016 election in part by promising to stay out of conflicts abroad after what he viewed as costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Earlier this year he ordered U.S. troops out of Syria but was persuaded to leave some in.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday welcomed what she called Trump’s lack of "appetite” for military conflict with Tehran.
According to the Times, Trump is instinctively wary of military adventures and a cadre of advisers — led by the national security adviser, John Bolton — who have taken an uncompromising line toward Iran.
Iran has dismissed any suggestion of a dialogue with Trump. "The escalation by the United States is unacceptable,” Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif said in Tokyo Thursday.
No new information was presented to Trump at the Situation Room meeting that argued for further engagement with Iran, according to a person who attended.
The New York Times also said for all of his harsh words toward Tehran, Pompeo was rankled by being lumped in with Bolton as bent on war. A former Republican lawmaker, Pompeo is an astute reader of Trump’s preferences and will plunge into diplomacy, if necessary, as he has with North Korea, it said.
Bolton, as a private citizen, long called for regime change in Tehran. He has stocked the National Security Council with Iran hardliners and has masterminded recent policy changes to tighten the economic and political vise on Tehran.
In recent days, officials said Trump has begun consulting outsiders, including Jack Keane, the former Army vice chief of staff and architect of the Iraq war troop surge who now appears regularly on Fox News.
Keane declined to discuss any conversations he had with Trump, but said, "I’m confident that we’re not heading to a war with Iran.”
Other former government officials, however, criticized the Trump administration’s policy as hobbled by internal disarray.
Derek Chollet, an assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs under President Barack Obama, said the Trump administration was "riddled by a fundamental contradiction — a president who wants to withdraw from the Middle East and an administration with a maximalist policy of regime change.”