President Donald Trump downplayed the seriousness of suspected attacks on two merchant tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week, essentially dismissing the idea that the recent events would trigger a war with Iran.
In an interview with Time Magazine published Tuesday, Trump called the June 13 attacks, which his administration has blamed on Iran and which crippled two vessels and forced their crew to abandon ship, “very minor.”
“So far, it’s been very minor,” Trump told Time Magazine.
While he endorsed the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Iran was the likely culprit in last week’s events, he seemed to suggest that energy interests in the region — including the Strait of Hormuz, near the site of the attacks and the conduit for 30% of the world’s seaborne oil exports — were not worth starting a war over.
“Other places get such vast amounts of oil there,” Trump told Time, referring to major importers of Middle East oil like China and Japan. “We get very little. We have made tremendous progress in the last two and a half years in 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 president’s comments are markedly less hawkish than those coming from the Pentagon and State Department, where national security leaders have insisted that all options are on the table, including military action, in order to defend U.S. interests.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has announced a fresh deployment of 1,000 additional troops to the region on top of the 1,500 announced last month as tensions climb between the two adversaries one year after Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
When asked by Time about what provocations would lead him to move toward war with Iran, the president replied, “I would certainly go over nuclear weapons.” Tehran announced on Monday that it would breach the nuclear deal’s internationally-agreed limits on its uranium enrichment and stockpiles in 10 days.
Trump has been reluctant to drive a war narrative, having run his campaign on promises of ending America’s drawn-out Middle East conflicts. Hawkishness toward Iran has been mainly attributed to his National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who called for military action against Iran long before Trump’s ascent to the Oval Office.
Read Time Magazine’s full interview here.