Attacks on oil tankers in Gulf 'very minor', claims Trump
Donald Trump undercut his more hawkish security advisers yesterday when the US president downplayed alleged Iranian attacks on oil tankers as "very minor", even as the United States ordered 1,000 more troops to the Middle East.
While members of his administration have warned they were considering a military response to the Gulf of Oman attacks, he himself raised doubts about America's willingness to use force.
"So far, it's been very minor," Mr Trump said of the attacks.
He told 'Time' magazine he would "certainly" use force to stop Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon but would keep "a question mark" over his reaction to the incidents in the Gulf.
Hassan Rouhani, Iran's president, also said his country was not seeking conflict but would stand resolute in the face of crippling US sanctions.
"We do not wage war with any nation," he said.
Mr Trump's comments only deepened the confusion about US policy towards Iran and were the latest in a string of situations where the president has contradicted his most senior national security advisers. Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, said the oil tanker attacks "present a clear threat to international peace" and warned at the weekend the US was considering military action.
Ruchika Mathur, an analyst with 'The Economist Intelligence Unit', said Mr Trump was anxious to avoid a war with Iran that could damage his chances of re-election next year.
"We still do not expect a military confrontation," said Ms Mathur. "This is largely because we believe that Donald Trump is primarily motivated by a desire to win the 2020 presidential election.
"In the previous election he pledged to keep the US out of expensive wars and to draw down its military activities in the Middle East."
The US military released a new set of images of what it said were Iranian forces trying to dispose of evidence by removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the tankers damaged in the Gulf of Oman.
Although clearer than a grainy video released last week, the images do not show Revolutionary Guard forces actually planting the mine or otherwise attacking the oil tanker.
Despite Mr Trump's softer tone, the Pentagon has announced that it is deploying an extra 1,000 US troops to the Middle East for defensive purposes.
"The United States does not seek conflict with Iran," said Patrick Shanahan, the acting defence secretary.
"The action is being taken to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests," it said.
Since early May, the US has ordered an aircraft carrier, a bomber task force, several anti-missile batteries, and a total of 2,500 extra troops to the Middle East.
Sergei Ryabkov, the Russian deputy foreign minister, said the continued build-up of US forces was part of a "conscious course to provoke war".