A US official said on Monday that President Donald Trump requested options to attack Iran’s main nuclear site last week, but ultimately decided not to take the dramatic step.
The official said Trump made the request during a meeting in the Oval Office on Thursday with his top national security aides, including Vice President Mike Pence, Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Trump, who is contesting the results of the November 3 election, is due to hand power to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden on January 20.
The official confirmed a report of the meeting in The New York Times that said advisers had persuaded Trump not to go ahead with the strike due to the risk of a wider conflict.
“He asked for options,” the official said. They gave him the scenarios and he decided in the end not to proceed.
The White House declined to comment.
Trump spent the four years of his presidency pursuing an aggressive policy toward Iran, pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, and imposing economic sanctions on a wide range of Iranian targets.
His request for options came a day after a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency of the United Nations showed that Iran had completed the transfer of the first series of advanced centrifuges from an above ground facility at its main uranium enrichment site to an underground facility, in a new violation of its nuclear agreement with the Major powers.
Alireza Mir Yousefi, spokesman for the Iranian mission to the United Nations in New York, said Iran’s nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes and civilian uses, and that Trump’s policies have not changed that.
“But Iran has proven its ability to use its legitimate military power to prevent or confront any black adventure from any aggressor,” he added.
In January, Trump ordered a US drone strike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani at Baghdad airport, but he abandoned broader military conflicts and sought to withdraw US forces from global hotspots in line with his promise to stop what he calls “endless wars”.
A strike on Iran’s main nuclear site in Natanz would turn into a regional conflict and pose a serious challenge to Biden’s foreign policy.
Biden’s transition team declined to comment.
The Biden team had no access to national security information due to the Trump administration’s refusal to start the transition.
For his part, an Iranian government spokesman said today, Tuesday, that any US move against Iran will be met with a “crushing” response, after reports that US President Donald Trump asked about options to attack an Iranian nuclear site last week before he refused to do so.
“Any action against the Iranian people will definitely face an overwhelming response,” said spokesman Ali Rabiei, in statements published on an official government website.
In response to the report, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said, “If I were the Iranians, I wouldn’t feel at ease”.
He stated that he was not aware of the discussions that took place in the Oval Office on Thursday.
“It is very important for the Iranians to know that if they really suddenly go to high levels of enrichment in the direction of developing nuclear weapons, they will be vulnerable to confronting the military might of the United States and perhaps other countries as well,” he told Israeli Army Radio.
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Rabei accused Israel of waging a “psychological war” against Iran.
Regarding the United States, he said, “Personally, I do not expect that it wants to cause insecurity in the world and the region”.