Donald Trump delivers a statement on Iran in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg)

Trump Denies Iran Threat, Then Revives It in Muddled Response

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump rejected a report that his administration is planning for war with Iran, but then warned he’d send “a hell of a lot more” than 120,000 troops to the Middle East in the event of hostilities.

“I think it’s fake news, OK?” Trump told reporters outside the White House on Tuesday after he was asked about a New York Times report that plans envision sending 120,000 U.S. troops to fight the Islamic Republic.

“Now would I do that? Absolutely,” Trump then added. “But I have not planned for that. If we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.”

Tensions are rising with Iran after the Trump administration revoked waivers this month that allowed Iran to continue selling oil to some customers despite U.S. sanctions. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates reported on Monday mysterious attacks on several vessels including oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed on Tuesday they had damaged Saudi oil pumping stations on Tuesday using drones.

Trump warned Iran against provocations yesterday. “If they do anything, it will be a very bad mistake,” he told reporters in the Oval Office.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday that neither his country or the U.S. want war, according to the semi-official Tasnim News. The U.S. knows that war won’t benefit it and the only option for the Iranian people is resistance, Khamenei said at a meeting with senior officials, Tasnim reported.

The Times reported that the president’s top national security aides met on Thursday to discuss updated war plans with Iran. The plans envision sending as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack American forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons, the Times said.

The Times said the plans do not call for a land invasion of Iran, which would require many more troops.

A spokesman for the White House National Security Council, Garrett Marquis, declined to comment on the accuracy of the Times story. He said in a statement that Trump has been open to talks with the Iranian leadership and made clear that “the United States does not seek military conflicts with Iran.”

But he added: “Iran’s default option for 40 years has been violence and we are ready to defend U.S. personnel and interests in the region.”

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