President Donald Trump has warned Iran that he would be willing to go to war to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons, but would probably not launch a military conflict over oil.
In an interview with Time published Tuesday morning, Trump tried to defuse tensions over last week’s attacks on oil tankers that the Pentagon has blamed on Tehran, calling them “very minor.”
Trump made the remarks on Monday, just hours after Iran had announced that its stockpiles of enriched uranium would exceed the limits agreed to under the 2015 nuclear deal by the end of the month — raising concerns that it could soon begin developing nuclear weapons.
Asked if he'd be willing to go to war with Iran if it started developing nuclear weapons or if the U.S. needed to protect international oil supplies, Trump said, “I would certainly go over nuclear weapons, and I would keep the other a question mark.”
The question of protecting oil supplies has become increasingly relevant after a series of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. On Monday, the Pentagon released what it claimed was additional evidence to back up its charge that Tehran was behind an attack on two oil tankers in the gulf last week. It also announced it was sending about 1,000 additional American troops to the Middle East to bolster regional security in the face of what U.S. officials say is a growing threat from Iran.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the U.S. is “considering a full range of options” in response to the attacks.
But Trump struck a different tone in the Time interview, downplaying the attacks and claiming the U.S. is no longer as reliant on Middle East pipelines as it once was.
“Other places get such vast amounts of oil there,” Trump said. “We get very little. We have made tremendous progress in the last two and a half years in energy. And when the pipelines get built, we’re now an exporter of energy. So we’re not in the position that we used to be in the Middle East where … some people would say we were there for the oil.”
Tehran has denied any responsibility for the tanker attacks, and the country’s president responded angrily on Tuesday to recent escalations, saying his country does “not wage war with any nation” but the entire nation “is unanimous in confronting U.S. pressures.”
“The end of this battle will see victory of the Iranian nation,” Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday.
China, which remains heavily reliant on oil from the Middle East, waded into the middle of the conflict Tuesday when its top diplomat denounced U.S. use of “extreme pressure” on Iran and urged restraint in the region.
“We call on all sides to remain rational and exercise restraint, and not take any escalatory actions that irritate regional tensions, and not open a Pandora’s box,” Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi said.
The pressure coming from the U.S. side in relation to nuclear weapons may ring hollow, however, given that Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018. That now puts Washington in the awkward position of urging Tehran to abide by the terms of the pact.
“We continue to call on the Iranian regime not to obtain a nuclear weapon, to abide by their commitments to the international community,” a State Department spokesperson said Monday.
Cover: President Donald Trump joined world leaders, dignitaries and military veterans in Portsmouth, England to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion in June of 1944. (Portsmouth, England, UK)