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Candidate to head Pentagon argues for diplomatic approach to Iran

WASHINGTON — Army Secretary Mark Esper, US President Donald Trump’s nominee to become secretary of defense, tells his Senate confirmation hearing that the United States should pursue diplomatic solutions to its differences with Iran and avoid war.

Esper tells the Senate Armed Services Committee, “I agree we do not want war with Iran. We are not seeking war with Iran. We need to get back on the diplomatic channel.”

Esper says the administration plans to brief lawmakers soon on a plan for working with other countries to more closely monitor commercial shipping in and around the Persian Gulf. He says this plan, which he calls “Operation Sentinel,” is intended to deter Iran from impeding navigation in the Gulf and avoid Iranian miscalculations.

Testifying a day after Trump submitted his nomination to the Senate, Esper faced a mostly friendly series of questions from members of the Armed Services Committee. The Republican-led Senate is expected to attempt to get Esper confirmed as early as Thursday, ending seven months of leadership uncertainty at the Pentagon. There has been no Senate-confirmed defense secretary since Jim Mattis left last New Year’s Eve.

Mattis quit after a series of policy disputes with Trump, including the president’s announcement in December that he would withdraw all US troops from Syria — a move he never executed.

— AP

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