President Donald Trump vowed to use military force, if necessary, to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capacity, but downplayed the recent string of suspected Iranian attacks on oil tankers in and near the Persian Gulf.
“I would certainly go over nuclear weapons,” the president said during an interview with Time.
When asked if he would go to war to protect oil tankers, following a series of alleged Iranian attacks in and around the Persian Gulf, the president said he would “keep the other a question mark.”
The US has blamed Iran for attacks on multiple oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman.
Two tankers from Norway and Japan were attacked in the Gulf of Oman four days ago. The US and its allies have also accused "Iran and its proxies" of being behind the May 12 attacks on four tankers anchored in the Gulf of Oman off the United Arab Emirates port of Fujairah.
Trump played down the attacks ascribed to Iran, saying “So far, it’s been very minor.”
The president played down the strategic importance for the United States of the attacks and the oil supplies which much of the developed world relies upon for fuel, citing the surge in recent years in US oil production.
“Other places get such vast amounts of oil there,” Trump said. “We get very little. We have made tremendous progress in the last two and a half years in energy. And when the pipelines get built, we’re now an exporter of energy. So we’re not in the position that we used to be in in the Middle East where … some people would say we were there for the oil.”
The interview was published just hours after the Pentagon announced it was deploying an additional 1,000 US troops to the Middle East, citing “recent Iranian attacks”.
"In response to a request from the US Central Command for additional forces, and with the advice of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and in consultation with the White House, I have authorized approximately 1,000 additional troops for defensive purposes to address air, naval, and ground-based threats in the Middle East," acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said in a statement quoted by CNN.
"The recent Iranian attacks validate the reliable, credible intelligence we have received on hostile behavior by Iranian forces and their proxy groups that threaten United States personnel and interests across the region," Shanahan said, adding that the "United States does not seek conflict with Iran."