DONALD TRUMP appeared to be backing away from his threat to bring Iran to an ‘official end’ last night as White House officials claimed his tough talk had deterred attacks on US forces.
After a day of behind-closed-doors briefings on Capitol Hill, secretary of state Mike Pompeo and acting defence secretary Patrick Shanahan said the president’s objective over recent days had been to deter Iran from war — and now they want to prevent further escalation.
‘We’re not about going to war,’ Mr Shanahan said. ‘Our biggest focus at this point is to prevent Iranian miscalculation. We do not want the situation to escalate.’
His statement came after weeks of tensions between the US and Iran that raised alarms over a possible military confrontation with the Gulf state.
The US has sent an aircraft carrier strike group, four bomber aircraft and ‘other assets’ to the region. It is also moving a Patriot missile battery to an undisclosed nearby country.
All non-essential US personnel have been evacuated from Iraq, amid ‘unspecified credible threats linked to Iran’.
Mr Trump said on Monday he would meet provocations by Iran with ‘great force’ after a rocket landed near the US embassy in the Green Zone of Iraq’s capital, Baghdad. Iran is also believed to have been behind an attack on four tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates two weeks ago.
On Monday, Iran announced it had quadrupled its uranium-enrichment production capacity — usable for a power plant but below what is needed for a nuclear weapon. Mr Trump’s actions and rhetoric have angered his Democrat opposition.
They say he escalated problems by withdrawing the US from the Iran nuclear deal, a complex accord negotiated during Barack Obama’s presidency to prevent Iran from nuclear weapons production.
They are particularly concerned he may try to rely on nearly 20-year-old war authorisations rather than seek fresh approval from Congress for any action.
Democrat Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee, said: ‘What I’m interested in more right now is what the administration’s strategy is — if they have one — to keep us out of war.’
But Republican senator Mitt Romney said the action taken by the Trump administration was ‘totally appropriate’ and sent a message that ‘if you attack our people, there will be a response’.
He characterised it as defensive in nature and meant to deter Iran from ‘malign’ actions.