By Steve Holland and Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON, May 16 (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has told his top advisers he does not want to get the United States involved in a war with Iran, three U.S. officials said on Thursday.
“He doesn’t want to go to war. It’s not who he is,” one official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Trump has communicated to his national security team and other aides that wants to keep tensions with Tehran from boiling over into an armed conflict, the officials said.
But he has also made clear that he will protect U.S. interests in the region, one official said. U.S. intelligence showed heightened activity by Iran or its proxies that U.S. officials took as a threat against American targets in the region.
Trump won the 2016 election in part by promising to stay out of conflicts abroad after what he viewed as costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Earlier this year he ordered U.S. troops out of Syria but was persuaded to leave some in.
Trump told reporters on Thursday that he hoped the United States was not heading to war with Iran as he met with Switzerland President Ueli Maurer, whose nation has served as a liaison conduit between the two countries since they do not have diplomatic relations.
“Hope not,” Trump said when asked by reporters if Washington was going to war with Tehran.
Tensions have escalated in recent days with increasing concerns about a potential U.S.-Iran conflict. Earlier this week the United States pulled some diplomatic staff from its embassy in Baghdad following weekend attacks on four oil tankers in the Gulf.
“The president has been clear, the United States does not seek military conflict with Iran, and he is open to talks with Iranian leadership. However,Iran’s default option for 40 years has been violence, and we will protect U.S. personnel and interests in the region,” said Garrett Marquis, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.
A White House statement said the two leaders discussed “a range of international issues, including the crises in the Middle East and in Venezuela.”
Trump has said publicly he wants to pursue a diplomatic route with Iran a year after withdrawing the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. He has said privately that he was worried that some of his advisers, such as White House national security adviser John Bolton, were pushing for war, two officials said.
The Pentagon has prepared options for potentially sending U.S. troops to the region if needed ranging from a relatively small number of troops up to 120,000, although officials stressed these are the types of options that are always considered for hot zones.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” that there is no friction between Trump and his advisers and he welcomes different viewpoints.
“He’s the one the American people elected. He’s going to take in the information and the guidance from all of his national security team and he then will make a decision on what he thinks is the best and safest thing for the American people,” she said.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday welcomed what she called Trump’s lack of “appetite” for military conflict with Tehran.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Phil Stewart; Editing by Richard Chang and Cynthia Osterman)