U.S. President Donald Trump denied on Sunday reports that he sent a message to Tehran warning Iran of a U.S. attack, which he later called off.
Iranian sources told Reuters that Trump had warned Tehran via Oman that a U.S. attack was imminent, but had said he was against war and wanted talks.
“I did not send that message,” Trump said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press program, adding, “I’m not looking for war.”
Asked what he thinks Iran wants, he said, “I think they want to negotiate. And I think they want to make a deal. And my deal is nuclear. Look, they’re not going to have a nuclear weapon … I don’t think they like the position they’re in. Their economy is, is absolutely broken.”
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said Sunday that Iran should not “mistake U.S. prudence and discretion for weakness" while Iran warned that any conflict in the Gulf region may spread uncontrollably and threaten the lives of U.S. troops,
Bolton’s tough message seemed to be aimed not only at Tehran, but also at reassuring key U.S. allies that the White House remains committed to maintaining pressure on Iran. Israel, along with Arab countries in the Gulf, considers Iran to be their greatest threat, and Trump’s last-minute aboutface on military retaliation appears to have raised questions about U.S. willingness to use force against the Islamic Republic.
The downing of the aircraft on Thursday marked a new high in the rising tensions between the United States and Iran in the Persian Gulf. The Trump administration has vowed to combine a “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions with a buildup of American forces in the region, following the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
On Sunday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blamed the United States’ “interventionist military presence” for fanning the flames. He was quoted by the official IRNA news agency.
“The region is very sensitive and security of the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman waterways is important to many countries. We expect international bodies to show proper reaction to the invasion move,” Rouhani said about the downing of the U.S. drone.
Bolton, a longtime Iran hawk, emphasized that the U.S. reserved the right to attack at a later point. He also said a new set of sanctions on Iran are expected to be announced Monday.
“No one has granted them a hunting license in the Middle East. As President Trump said on Friday, our military is rebuilt, new and ready to go,” Bolton said in Jerusalem alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, himself a vocal critic of Iran over the years.
“And as he made clear yesterday, referring to his earlier remarks, the president said, ‘I just stopped the strike from going forward at this time,“’ Bolton added.
Iran’s foreign minister said Bolton was trying to force the U.S. into a conflict with Iran. Javad Zarif tweeted that the presidential adviser was “moments away from trapping” Trump into a “war,” before the U.S. president called off the strikes against Iran.
Throughout the recent crisis, Trump has wavered between bellicose language and actions toward Iran and a more accommodating tone. His administration is aiming to cripple Iran’s economy and force policy changes by re-imposing sanctions, including on Iranian oil exports.
However, Trump said Saturday he appreciated that Iran did not fire on a U.S. spy plane with a crew of over 30 people that was flying Thursday over the same area as the drone that was shot down.
He also dangled the prospect of eventually becoming an unlikely “best friend” of America’s longtime Middle Eastern adversary.
Iranian lawmakers on Sunday chanted “death to America” during an open session when acting parliament speaker Masoud Pezeshkian condemned what he said was the violation of Iranian airspace by the U.S. drone.
The regional tensions have prompted major international carriers, including Saudi Arabia’s state airline Saudia, to divert flight routes away from the Gulf of Oman and Strait of Hormuz.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s on Friday barred U.S.-registered aircraft from operating over parts of the Persian Gulf.
The U.S. blames Iran for apparent attacks on six oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman in recent weeks, which Iran denies. Iranian-allied rebels in Yemen have also recently launched attacks on a civilian airport in Saudi Arabia, a desalination plant and key oil pipeline in the kingdom. The kingdom has been at war in Yemen against the rebels since 2015.
Iran has said it would respond firmly to any threat against it and warned on Sunday of the risks of a military confrontation.
“If a conflict breaks out in the region, no country would be able to manage its scope and timing,” Major General Gholamali Rashid said, according to the semi-official news agency Fars.
“The American government must act responsibly to protect the lives of American troops by avoiding misconduct in the region.”
Tensions in the region began to worsen significantly when Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six powers and reimposed sanctions on the country. The sanctions had been lifted under the pact in return for Tehran curbing its nuclear programme.