President Donald Trump on Sunday ratcheted up his rhetoric toward Iran, warning that a fight with the United States would “be the official end of Iran.”
“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran,” Trump said in a tweet. “Never threaten the United States again!”
The tweet comes amid rising fears over a potential military confrontation between the two countries. Officials in Washington are debating recent intelligence regarding whether Iran or the militias it supports are possibly planning to attack US assets or whether it is acting defensively in an attempt to deter US action.
But Trump took a seemingly more subdued tone in an interview with Fox News that aired Sunday evening.
“I just don’t want them to have nuclear weapons, and they can’t be threatening us. And with all of everything that’s going on, and I’m not one that believes – you know, I’m not somebody that wants to go into war, because war hurts economies, war kills people most importantly – by far most importantly,” he said.
“I don’t want to fight. But you do have situations like Iran, you can’t let them have nuclear weapons – you just can’t let that happen,” he said.
Responding to Trump, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps, Major-General Hossein Salami, said Sunday that “Iran is not looking for any type of war, but it is fully prepared to defend itself,” according to Iran’s state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.
The Trump administration has attempted to use a combination of hawkish rhetoric, diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions and now military posturing in order to fundamentally change the nature of the Iranian regime.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a speech last year that Washington’s actions, including abandoning the nuclear deal with Tehran, were meant to force Iran behave like a “normal” country – one that doesn’t sponsor terrorism or seek to develop nuclear weapons. But many saw the address as a call for regime in everything but name.
CNN’s Barbara Starr reported Friday the US claims to have images of Iranian commercial vessels in the Persian Gulf that it believes are carrying missiles and other munitions, according to a US official with knowledge of the situation. The US government has provided no proof the ships are carrying hidden missiles and other munitions and CNN has not reviewed the intelligence that has led to the US assessment.
CNN previously reported that multiple officials have claimed that the recent movements of missiles by Iranian vessels do not reflect the typical Iranian pattern of transporting missiles outside the Persian Gulf to Iranian backed forces in Yemen. That unusual movement was part of the US assessment of Iranian threats.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that the Trump administration doesn’t want war with Iran but warned of a “swift and decisive” response from the US, should Iran initiate an attack.
“The regime in Tehran should understand that any attacks by them or their proxies of any identity against US interests or citizens will be answered with a swift and decisive US response,” he said.
Earlier this month, US national security adviser John Bolton said the US deployed the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the Middle East in response to a “number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran.
“The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime,” Bolton wrote in a statement released by the White House, “But we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces.”
CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen, Nicole Gaouette, Joshua Berlinger, Barbara Starr and Ryan Browne contributed to this report.