President Donald Trump has privately pushed his representatives to walk back their tough talk on Iran—and reiterate that the administration is not aiming to go to war with Tehran.
Two senior officials and three other individuals with direct knowledge of the administration’s strategy in the region tell The Daily Beast that the president has asked officials to tone down their heated rhetoric on Iran, despite the attacks on tanker ships in the Gulf of Oman that Washington has blamed on Tehran. The president has previously said he is less hawkish on Iran than some of his advisers and this week, in a Time magazine interview, said the attacks on the tankers were “very minor.”
Over the last several days in public testimony and in closed-door briefings, Trump administration officials have tried to calm lawmakers on Capitol Hill who are wary of the administration evading Congress to launch a military confrontation with Tehran. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It’s a major change in tone from the Trump administration. As recently as a few days ago, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on CBS Face the Nation that everything was on the table when it came to Iran, including military action. And National Security Adviser John Bolton has pushed internally for a confrontation with Tehran. “If you cross us, our allies or our partners, you harm our citizens, if you continue to lie, cheat, and deceive, yes, there will indeed be hell to pay,” Bolton said in New York last year.
In contrast, State Department Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said during a hearing in front of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Wednesday that “there is no talk of offensive action” within the administration when it comes to Iran.
“No one should be uncertain about our desire for peace or our readiness to normalize relations should we reach a comprehensive deal,” Hook said. “We have put the possibility of a much brighter future on the table for the Iranian people, and we mean it.” He added that the administration is willing to negotiate with Iran but only when “the time is right.”
The new narrative has confused lawmakers on the Hill who, over the last few weeks, have raised concerns that the Trump administration appeared to have inflated Iranian intel and led the U.S. down the path of a military confrontation with Tehran. Now, with the administration pushing back on that notion, lawmakers are once again asking, what’s the plan?
“I don’t think they have an [end game]. And that’s very concerning to me,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI). “I don’t think they have a clear strategy, and I certainly don’t think they’ve articulated what the objectives are. It seems as though they were intent on blowing up the [nuclear deal] and withdrawing from that agreement and now they are in the position of trying to build a coalition with our allies to keep pressure on Iran and not violate an agreement we withdrew from. It’s sort of an absurdity.”
During the hearing, in which Cicilline took part, Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) pressed Hook on what exactly he understood to be the administration’s strategy on Iran moving forward.
“We are getting messages from different parts of the administration,” Malinowski said. “What I hear from you is very different [than what I hear from the president],” adding that the president’s tweets seemed to focus on changing Iran’s behavior in regard to the nuclear deal.
“But what I hear from you is that our policy is to bankrupt Iran until they meet… demands that include basically cutting off ties with all of their proxies in the region. So which is it?”
Hook said the administration’s strategy was two-fold, with two primary objectives.
Source: The Daily Beast