WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump said in an interview Sunday that while he does not want to go to war with Iran, he will not let it acquire nuclear weapons.
“I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons,” he told Fox News in an interview that aired late Sunday. “I don’t want to fight. But you do have situations like Iran, you can’t let them have nuclear weapons — you just can’t let that happen.”
“With all of everything that’s going on, and I’m not one that believes — you know, I’m not somebody that wants to go into war, because war hurts economies, war kills people most importantly — by far most importantly,” Trump said.
Trump, who withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal forged by his predecessor Barack Obama, said that the sanctions he reimposed were working better than he imagined.
“I ended the Iran nuclear deal, and actually, I must tell you — I had no idea it was going to be as strong as it was. It totally — the country is devastated from the standpoint of the economy,” he said.
The interview, which was filmed several days ago, was broadcast just hours after he threatened Iran with destruction if it seeks a fight.
“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!” Trump tweeted.
If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 19, 2019
A senior Iranian military commander was quoted as saying his country was not looking for war, in comments published in Iranian media on Sunday.
Fears of armed conflict were already running high after the White House ordered warships and bombers to the region earlier this month to counter an alleged, unexplained threat from Iran. The US also has ordered nonessential staff out of its diplomatic posts in Iraq.
On Sunday, US regional ally Saudi Arabia also said it does not want war but will not hesitate to defend itself against Iran, after the kingdom’s energy sector was targeted this past week amid heightened tensions in the Persian Gulf.
Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, spoke a week after four oil tankers — two of them Saudi — were targeted in an alleged act of sabotage off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and days after Iran-allied Yemeni rebels claimed a drone attack on a Saudi oil pipeline.
“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not want war in the region and does not strive for that… but at the same time, if the other side chooses war, the kingdom will fight this with all force and determination and it will defend itself, its citizens and its interests,” al-Jubeir told reporters.
On Sunday night, the US military command that oversees the Mideast confirmed an explosion outside the US Embassy compound in Baghdad and said there were no US or coalition casualties.
A State Department spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that “a low-grade rocket did land within the International Zone near the US Embassy.” The spokesman said that “attacks on US personnel and facilities will not be tolerated and will be responded to in a decisive manner” and added that the US will hold “Iran responsible if any such attacks are conducted by its proxy militia forces or elements of such forces.”
Sunday night’s apparent rocket attack was the first such incident since September, when three mortar shells landed in an abandoned lot inside the Green Zone.
Iraqi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasoul told The Associated Press that a Katyusha rocket fell near the statue of the Unknown Soldier, less than a mile from the US Embassy. He said that the military was investigating the cause but that the rocket was believed to have been fired from east Baghdad. The area is home to Iran-backed Shiite militias.
As tensions escalate between the US and Iran, there have been concerns that Baghdad could once again get caught in the middle , just as it is on the path to recovery. The country hosts more than 5,000 US troops, and is home to powerful Iranian-backed militias, some of whom want those US forces to leave.
The US Navy said Sunday it had conducted exercises in the Arabian Sea with the aircraft carrier strike group ordered to the region to counter the unspecified threat from Iran. The Navy said the exercises and training were conducted Friday and Saturday with the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group in coordination with the US Marine Corps, highlighting US “lethality and agility to respond to threat,” as well as to deter conflict and preserve US strategic interests.
The current tensions are rooted in Trump’s decision last year to withdraw the US from the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers and impose wide-reaching sanctions, including on Iranian oil exports that are crucial to its economy.
Iran has said it would resume enriching uranium at higher levels if a new nuclear deal is not reached by July 7. That would potentially bring it closer to being able to develop a nuclear weapon, something Iran insists it has never sought.
Energy ministers from OPEC and its allies, including major producers Saudi Arabia and Russia, are meeting in Saudi Arabia on Sunday to discuss energy prices and production cuts. Iran’s oil exports are expected to shrink further in the coming months after the US stopped renewing waivers that allowed it to continue selling to some countries.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, meanwhile, has called for a meeting of Arab heads of state on May 30 in Mecca to discuss the latest developments, including the oil pipeline attack.
The kingdom has blamed the pipeline attack on Iran, accusing Tehran of arming the rebel Houthis, which a Saudi-led coalition has been at war with in Yemen since 2015. Iran denies arming or training the rebels, who control much of northern Yemen, including the capital, Sanaa.
“We want peace and stability in the region, but we won’t stand with our hands bound as the Iranians continuously attack. Iran has to understand that,” al-Jubeir said. “The ball is in Iran’s court.”
Al-Jubeir also noted that an investigation, led by the UAE, into the tanker incident is underway.
The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Hossein Salami, was quoted Sunday as saying Iran is not looking for war. But he said the US.is going to fail in the near future “because they are frustrated and hopeless” and are looking for a way out of the current escalation. His comments, given to other Guard commanders, were carried by Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency.
The USS Abraham Lincoln has yet to reach the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil traded at sea passes.