WASHINGTON/GENEVA – U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he was “not talking boots on the ground” should he take military action against Iran and that he had “unlimited time” to try to forge an agreement with Tehran.
Iran suggested it was just one day from breaching a limit in the 2015 nuclear deal that restricted its stockpile of uranium, a move that would pressure European countries aiming to be neutral to pick sides.
The fate of the multilateral nuclear deal, under which Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions, has been at the heart of the U.S.-Iran dispute which took on a military dimension in recent weeks.
Last week Iran shot down a U.S. drone it said was in its airspace, which Washington denied. Trump called off retaliatory airstrikes at the last minute, saying too many people would have died. Washington also accused Tehran or its proxies of attacks in May and June on six tankers in the Persian Gulf region, which Iran denies.
Asked on Fox Business Network if a war was brewing, Trump replied: “I hope we don’t but we’re in a very strong position if something should happen.”
“I’m not talking boots on the ground,” Trump said. “I’m just saying if something would happen, it wouldn’t last very long.”
Speaking later at a gathering of religious conservatives, the U.S. president talked about whether there could be a new agreement with Iran, suggesting he could live without one.
“If it doesn’t happen, that’s fine with me,” Trump said. “I have unlimited time, as far as I’m concerned.”
The new acting Pentagon chief said Tuesday that the Trump administration aims to persuade allies the confrontation with Iran is “not Iran versus the United States” but rather a global challenge requiring global diplomacy.
Speaking to reporters traveling with him to a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, Mark Esper said he wants to help form a broader coalition to deter Iran and compel its leaders to return to the negotiating table for nuclear talks.
Trump last year unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran struck by his predecessor President Barack Obama, arguing that it did not go far enough to restrict Iran’s nuclear and missile programs and other activities in the Middle East.
He has since re-imposed U.S. economic sanctions on Iran, including taking the unprecedented step in May of trying to drive Iran’s oil exports to zero.
Although the United States and Iran both say they do not want war, last week’s aborted U.S. strikes have been followed by menacing rhetoric on both sides. On Tuesday Trump threatened the “obliteration” of parts of Iran if it struck U.S. interests. President Hassan Rouhani, who normally presents Tehran’s mild-mannered face, called White House policy “mentally retarded.”