Mattis says US not seeking regime change in Iran

Defense chief also dismisses Australian report of upcoming American strike on Iranian nuclear facilities as ‘fiction’

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speaks to the media before hosting the foreign minister of Oman at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, on July 27, 2018. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP)
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speaks to the media before hosting the foreign minister of Oman at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, on July 27, 2018. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP)

Defense Secretary James Mattis said Friday the United States is not seeking regime change in Iran, and remains focused on curbing the Islamic Republic’s military activities in the Middle East.

Speaking to reporters Friday at the Pentagon, Mattis was asked if the Trump administration has shifted to a policy of bringing down the regime in Tehran.

“There’s none that’s been instituted,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

“We need them to change their behavior on a number of threats that they can pose with their military, with their secret services, with their surrogates and with their proxies,” added Mattis.

The US has adopted a noticeably more hawkish stance toward Iran under President Donald Trump, who in May pulled out of the international agreement meant to limit the Iranian nuclear program and called for the reintroduction of punishing sanctions.

The White House however has stopped short of calling for regime change in Iran, though it has vocally backed anti-government demonstrators and strongly condemned Iranian leaders.

US President Donald Trump speaks about the economy on the South Lawn of the White House on July 27, 2018. (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)

In earlier remarks to reporters, Mattis also dismissed an Australian report that the US is planning to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities as early as next month as “fiction.”

“I’m confident that it’s not something that’s being considered right now,” he said.

Citing senior government sources, Australia’s ABC news reported that Australian and British intelligence services would be involved in identifying targets for a strike.

However, the sources told the paper that Australia would not actively participate in an attack on Iran.

Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull walks in front of military trucks during a visit to Thales Underwater Systems in Sydney on January 29, 2018. (Daniel Munoz/AAP Image via AP)

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull appeared to reject the report, saying it was “speculation” and he had “no reason” to believe a strike was imminent.

“I saw a story today claiming that on the ABC, and citing senior Australian government sources,” he said. “It’s speculation, it is citing anonymous sources.”

Australia and the UK partner with the US in the “Five Eyes” intelligence program, along with Canada and New Zealand, though the latter are unlikely to play any role in an attack on Iran, the sources told ABC.

On Sunday Trump issued an intense warning against Tehran, threatening that it could “suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever seen before.”

The response came after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani earlier Sunday issued his own warning to the US leader not to “play with the lion’s tail,” saying that conflict with Iran would be the “mother of all wars.”

However, Trump tempered the threat Tuesday, saying “we’re ready to make a real deal” with Iran.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani looks on as he attends a press conference in Bern on July 3, 2018. (AFP Photo/Ruben Sprich)

The back-and-forth came after the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal forged under former president Barack Obama.

The move sets in motion a renewal of sanctions against the Islamic Republic that were removed once the landmark accord was implemented in January 2016.

Those sanctions are now set to be reimposed in November, causing more than 50 international firms to exit the Iranian market, according to State Department policy and planning director Brian Hook.

AP contributed to this report.

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