President Trump on Monday played down tensions with Iran, saying his administration currently has no signs of threatening actions by Tehran but that if that changes, the United States “will have no choice” but to respond forcefully.
“They’ve been very hostile. They’ve truly been the No. 1 provocateur of terror,” Trump told reporters as he exited the White House for a campaign rally in Pennsylvania.
But he added: “We have no indication that anything’s happened or will happen, but if it does, it will be met, obviously, with great force. We will have no choice.”
Trump’s description of Iran’s recent actions stood somewhat in contrast with the portrayal given by his national security team. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said in a tweet earlier Monday that Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, had warned about “escalating tensions” with Iran.
“It is clear that over the last several weeks Iran has attacked pipelines and ships of other nations and created threat streams against American interests in Iraq,” Graham said.
The Trump administration has been on high alert in response to what officials have deemed specific and credible threats from Iran against U.S. personnel in the Middle East.
But the president is frustrated with some of his top advisers, who he thinks could rush the United States into a military confrontation with Iran and shatter his long-standing pledge to withdraw from costly foreign wars, several U.S. officials told The Washington Post earlier this month. Trump prefers a diplomatic approach to resolving tensions and wants to speak directly with Iran’s leaders.
Bolton, who advocated regime change in Iran before joining the White House last year, is “just in a different place” from Trump, a senior U.S. official told The Post, although the president has been a fierce critic of Iran since long before he hired Bolton. Trump “wants to talk to the Iranians; he wants a deal” and is open to negotiation with the Iranian government, the official said.
On Sunday night, Trump issued a warning to Iran, tweeting, “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”
In his exchange with reporters on Monday, he left the door open to negotiations.
“If they called, we would certainly negotiate, but that’s going to be up to them,” Trump said, adding that Iranian officials “don’t have to bother” if they’re not ready.
John Hudson contributed to this report.