US President Donald Trump has ordered his administration to avoid a military confrontation with Iran, the New York Times and Reuters have reported.
The Times reported Friday that Trump, during a Wednesday morning meeting in the Situation Room, sent a message to his hawkish aides that he does not want the US pressure campaign against Iran to explode into an open conflict.
“Trump was firm in saying he did not want a military clash with the Iranians,” read the paper citing five senior officials who described the administration’s internal debate over Iran.
The account was echoed by a report published by Reuters on Thursday, saying Trump had communicated to his national security team and other aides to avoid an armed conflict.
“He doesn’t want to go to war. It’s not who he is,” said one official speaking on condition of anonymity.
The report also cited anonymous officials informed on the matter as saying that Trump had privately expressed concern that some of his advisers, such a Bolton, were pushing for war.
Trump’s concern comes a week after Bolton announced that the US was sending an aircraft carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East to counter a “threat” from Tehran.
Hawks in Trump’s team – led by Bolton – have also gone as far as drawing up plans for a possible military strike that could involve sending 120,000 soldiers to the Middle East, according to a recent report.
Trump described the news as fake, but many observers have questioned the US administration’s sudden and vague assertions about an emerging Iranian “threat”, citing contradicting remarks made by US intelligence officials and politicians.
Major General Chris Ghika, the deputy commander of the US-led coalitions’ alleged anti-terror operations in Syria and Iraq, has rejected the administration’s assertions.
The British Defense Ministry has backed Ghika’s assessment.
American lawmakers from both parties have also expressed frustration about the administration’s increasing war rhetoric and lacking consultation with Congress.
US Sen. Bernie Sanders
In a move to quell lawmakers’ frustration, administration officials held a briefing for the Senate and House leaders from both parties later on Thursday.
Following the session, congressional representatives declined to comment on the classified information discussed during the meeting.
Representatives, however, continued to express conflicting views about the administration’s Iran allegations.
“It’s a situation where this president has surrounded himself with people, Pompeo and Bolton in particular, who believe that getting tough on a military basis with Iran is in our best interest,” said Democrat Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois after taking part in the briefing.
“I do not,” he added.
The internal tensions over the government’s approach towards Iran have prompted fears that the Trump administration may be seeking armed conflict despite Trump’s unwillingness.
Assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs under President Barack Obama Derek Chollet has said that the Trump administration is caught between fundamental policy contradictions; a “president who wants to withdraw from the Middle East and an administration with a maximalist policy of regime change.”
The comments comes as various reports in the past two weeks have claimed that Trump has been at odds with specifically Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over their push for military confrontation with Iran.
Earlier this week, US media reported that Trump was considering replacing hawkish Bolton.
‘There will be no war’
The heated debate over the Trump administration’s Iran policy comes as Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei downplayed the US’ highly belligerent rhetoric against Iran earlier this week, stressing that “there is not going to be any war.”
The Leader also ruled out any negotiation with the US as long as Washington sticks with its hostile approach against the Islamic Republic.
The comments were echoed by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday, who said that the Washington regime was acting as a “bully” trying to force others into acting illegally against a United Nations Security Council resolution which ratifies the nuclear deal.
In May 2018, Trump withdrew Washington from the JCPOA, reached in July 2015 between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China plus Germany — and decided to re-impose unilateral sanctions against Tehran.
The Trump administration’s maximum pressure policy through harsh sanctions and hostile rhetoric has since put Washington on a collision course with Tehran, with Trump seeking to cut Iranian oil exports to zero.
Iranian officials have stressed that the country is ready to defend its interests against any possible act of aggression.