A US official said on Monday that US President Donald Trump, two months after taking office, last week asked for options on attacking Iran’s main nuclear site, but ultimately decided not to take the dramatic step.
Trump made the request during a meeting in the Oval Office on Thursday with his top national security aides, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, new acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, and General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, an official said.
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Trump, who has refused to compromise and is challenging the results of the November 3 presidential election, is set to hand power to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden on January 20.
The official confirmed the account of the meeting in The New York Times, which reported that advisers had persuaded Trump not to go ahead with a strike because of the risk of a wider conflict.
“He asked for options. They told him the scenarios, and in the end he decided not to proceed.”
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The White House declined to comment.
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Trump spent the four years of his presidency engaging in aggressive policy against Iran, pulling out in 2018 from the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, and imposing economic sanctions on a wide range of Iranian targets.
Trump’s request for options came a day after a report by a United Nations monitoring body showed that Iran had completed the transfer of its first series of advanced centrifuges from an above ground plant at its main uranium enrichment site to an underground plant, in new violation of its 2015 nuclear deal with Major powers.
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Alireza Miriusvi, a spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York, said that Iran’s nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes and civilian uses and that Trump’s policies have not changed that. He added, “Nevertheless, Iran has proven its ability to use its legitimate military power to prevent or respond to any sad adventure from any aggressor.”
Iran’s stockpile of 2.4 tons of low-enriched uranium is now well above the 202.8 kg limit in the agreement. It produced 337.5 kg per quarter, less than the more than 500 kg recorded in the previous two quarters by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
In January, Trump ordered a US drone strike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani at Baghdad Airport. But he turned away from broader military conflicts and sought to withdraw US forces from global hotspots, in line with his promise to stop what he calls “endless wars.”
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A blow to Iran’s main nuclear site at Natanz could turn into a regional conflict and pose a serious challenge to Biden’s foreign policy.
Biden’s transition team, which did not have access to National Security Intelligence information due to the Trump administration’s refusal to start the transition, declined to comment.
(Reporting co-reporting by Steve Holland; co-reporting by Michael Martina and Michelle Nichols; Editing by Mary Milliken, Cynthia Osterman, Leslie Adler, and Lincoln Fest).
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