On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that he was ordering new sanctions on Iran, though neither the White House nor the Treasury Department specified what entities would be sanctioned.
Meanwhile, Trump continues to telegraph his options without saying where he’s leaning.
“You may have a very strong hit,” he said in a Fox News interview taped Wednesday but aired on Thursday morning. “We’ll see what happens, a lot of things could happen. If we could have a peaceful solution, that’s good. It’s possible that that won’t happen.”
Administration officials at the White House, Pentagon and elsewhere have grown doubtful that Trump will ultimately order up a military response to the oil attacks.
A senior military official said it is still the case that all options “are on the table” for responding to Iran, but the strong sense from the President is that he is not anxious for a kinetic strike, so other options may be enacted. The official said the President’s strong language over the past days is in keeping with a desire to send a message to Iran that the White House “sees” what they are up to.
Pentagon leadership is prepared to do whatever the President wishes, the official said. But military officials would advocate for seeing if other, non-military options could work.
That includes the package of sanctions, which have yet to be finalized despite Trump’s announcement on Wednesday. Officials have also considered cyber-attacks or movements of troops in the region.
Military options remain on the table, however. Those options have been previously discussed as a response to Iran’s aggressions in recent months. Two US officials have stressed that there have not been any new options presented to Trump.
Speaking to CNN on Thursday, Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned of an “all-out war” if the US carried out airstrikes on Iran.
“I’m making a very serious statement that we don’t want war; we don’t want to engage in a military confrontation,” Zarif said. “But we won’t blink to defend our territory.”
No decision was expected until Secretary of State Mike Pompeo concludes meetings in the region on Thursday. Pompeo met Wednesday with leaders in Saudi Arabia and was in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday before traveling back to Washington.
Speaking in Abu Dhabi, Pompeo said he had “good, productive conversations” with the Crown Princes of Saudi Arabia and the UAE and said he planned to brief Trump on what he heard.
“I think I’ll be able to give the President some important information about how it is we should think about proceeding,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo reiterated the claim that Iran was behind the Saudi Aramco attacks, noting that he “didn’t hear anybody in the region who doubted that for a single moment.” He did not present additional evidence to support his claim.
Pompeo said Trump and the US want “a peaceful resolution.”
“I think we’ve demonstrated that,” he said, adding that he is working to build out a coalition.
Pompeo appeared to escalate the episode in remarks on Wednesday, calling the attacks on Saudi oil fields an “act of war.” But he also noted there were no human casualties and said he wanted to work with partners in the region to develop a response.
In recent weeks, Saudi officials have told their US counterparts they are wary of any military action that might start a conflict the kingdom could be dragged into, according to two sources familiar with the discussions. Instead, they have supported the economic squeeze.
The official responsible for leading the national security deliberations is now Robert O’Brien, the US hostage negotiator who Trump named his fourth national security adviser on Wednesday. The two men traveled in California together.
Asked on the return flight from Washington whether O’Brien would be in meetings on Thursday related to Iran, Trump said he hoped so.
“I said, start as soon as you can. Start now. I said if you could start now,” Trump said.
CNN’s Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.