- President Donald Trump downplayed the recent string of attacks on tankers in the Middle East in an interview with TIME.
- He said that the attacks were “minor” issues and suggested that the waterways where ships are coming under attack are less significant than before for the US and perhaps not worth a fight.
- The president’s comments are noticeably different from those of his White House national security advisor, his secretary of state, and the acting secretary of defence.
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President Donald Trump broke message with top military and diplomatic advisors Monday, tellingTIME that the string of tanker attacks the US is blaming on Iran are “minor” issues.
There have been two attacks on six tankers in the Middle East in the past month, and the US is accusing Iran, which has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. The US military has released photo and video evidence that it argues points to Iranian commandos carrying out the mining, and in one case returning in a patrol boat to recover an unexploded mine against a tanker’s hull.
White House National Security Advisor John Bolton told The Washington Free Beacon Monday that Iran “would be making a big mistake if they doubted the president’s resolve on” dealing with these threats to the international oil market.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CBS News that the US is considering a “full range” of options, including the use of force, and on Monday afternoon, acting Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan announced that the US is sending 1,000 additional troops to the Middle East to support US forces already there.
These troops will join the carrier strike group, bomber task force, fighter squadrons, and air-and-missile defence units that began deploying to the region last month.
Both the State Department and the Pentagon have strongly condemned the attacks on commercial shipping in the area, but Trump struck a different tone in his most recent interview.
The president, as he did before on Fox & Friends, acknowledged that he concurs with the US intelligence assessment that Iran was behind the latest attacks. Trump has previously threatened to “end” Iran should they attack, while also calling for talks.
Trump toldTIME that he would go to war to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons, but said any other potential reason for conflict would be kept “a question mark.” The president said that the attacks on oil tankers are not really worth a fight.
Around 30 per cent of the world’s seaborne crude oil passes through the tense Strait of Hormuz, which Iran threatened to close in April in response to US pressure. The president told reporters that the waterway is less strategically significant than its once was.
“Other places get such vast amounts of oil there,” Trump explained to TIME, adding, “We get very little. We have made tremendous progress in the last two and a half years in energy. And when the pipelines get built, we’re now an exporter of 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 Trump administration is sending very mixed messages as the standoff continues in the tinderbox region.
“The risks of miscalculation are real,” Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul Selva told reporters Tuesday.