Iran has warned of a strong response if Donald Trump goes ahead with plans to use the twilight of his presidency to mount a strike on Iran or its allies in the region.
It was reported that Trump last week looked at options for striking Iran’s main nuclear site, but was dissuaded from taking action after his advisers warned it might lead to a larger conflict in the Middle East. The report was sourced to four US officials by the New York Times.
Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei warned against such an attack. “Any action against the Iranian nation would certainly face a crushing response,” he said.
Trump is frustrated that his policy of maximum sanctions has not forced Iran back to the negotiating table and has not ruled out other military action against Iranian surrogate forces in the Middle East ahead of his first term ending in January.
He has yet to concede defeat to Joe Biden, but appears to be looking for foreign policy legacy, including the further withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq.
According to the New York Times report, US officials told Trump last week that inspectors from a UN nuclear watchdog had reported on Wednesday that Iran’s stockpile of nuclear material increased significantly, and that Iran had barred their access to another site where there is evidence of prior nuclear activity.
At the Natanz nuclear facility, the IAEA said, the uranium stockpile is 12 times larger than permitted by the Iran nuclear deal, from which Trump withdrew in 2018. Iran is continuing to give the IAEA inspectors access to its sites, and the build-up in the stockpile has been relatively slow. Natanz has already this year been hit by arson and a possible cyber-attack, attributed to Israel.
Iranians are also monitoring sudden personnel changes inside the Pentagon, including Trump’s removal of the defence secretary, Mark Esper, and the recruitment of a group of hardliners. Little official explanation has been given for the reshuffle, leaving Iranian officials on guard for a military confrontation.
Aides present at the meeting included the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, the acting defence secretary, and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.
Officials said Trump had been dissuaded from striking the nuclear facility, but the possibility remains of targeting Iranian assets and allies outside of Iran, such as Iranian-aligned militias operating in Iraq. A day before the White House meeting, the report says, a small group of national security advisers met to discuss the issue.