Wed, 18 Sep 2019

By RFE/RL

Top U.S. administration officials told Congress on May 21 that Washington's response to alleged Iranian threats deterred attacks on American forces.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said their objective over recent days has been to discourage Iran.

Now U.S. President Donald Trump's administration seeks to prevent further escalation, Shanahan, flanked by Pompeo, said after a day of closed-door briefings on Capitol Hill.

'This is about deterrence, not about war. We are not about going to war,' the U.S. defense chief told reporters.

'Our biggest focus at this point is to prevent Iranian miscalculation. We do not want the situation to escalate.'

Earlier in the day, Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon, 'I think our steps were very prudent and we've put on hold the potential for attacks on Americans and that is what is extremely important."

Relations between Tehran and Washington have plummeted since last year when U.S. President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran that curbed Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for relief from crippling economic sanctions.

Since then, Washington has stepped up its rhetoric and reimposed sanctions.

There have been growing concerns of a possible military conflict with the United States, which this month beefed up its military presence in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, citing 'imminent threats' from Iran.

Tehran has dismissed the U.S. allegations. Both sides have said they do not want a war.

The situation in Iran was also discussed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone call, Merkel's office said in a statement on May 21.

Russia, France, and Germany, along with Britain and China are part of the 2015 accord.

The statement said that the three leaders 'underlined the need to persuade Iran to remain in the nuclear agreement, which they agreed to maintain.'

Iranian President Hassan Rohani said in live TV broadcast on May 21, 'The Iranian nation will not be defeated by America, the White House could not defeat the Iranian nation.'

Referring to the recently imposed U.S. sanctions, Rohani said, 'But at the end of the road, the victory is ours.'

On May 20, Rohani said that he was seeking expanded, wartime executive powers to deal with an 'economic war' being waged against the country by the United States, according to the official IRNA news agency.

Rohani cited the devastating war with Iraq from 1980-88, when a Supreme Council of War was able to bypass other branches to make decisions regarding the economy and the war effort.

'We need such powers today,' he said.

The Iranian president said that he favored talks and diplomacy to deescalate tensions with Washington but not under the current conditions.

'Today's situation is not suitable for talks and our choice is resistance only,' he was quoted as saying.

Trump on May 20 said that Iran would be met with 'great force' if it attempted anything against U.S. interests in the Middle East.

He also said that if Tehran wants to negotiate, it will have to take the first step.

'Iran will call us if and when they are ever ready. In the meantime, their economy continues to collapse - very sad for the Iranian people!' the U.S. president tweeted.

With reporting by IRNA, AP, Reuters, and AFP

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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