WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is not seeking conflict with Iran, and its military buildup in the Persian Gulf is aimed entirely at deterring Iranian aggression and threats to US interests and international shipping, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday.
On a visit to US Central Command in Florida just before the defense establishment was jolted by the sudden departure of the acting Pentagon chief, Pompeo said he is confident the American military is acting to confront any challenge. It is prepared and ready, he said, to respond to any attack by Iran on US interests or Iranian disruption of international shipping lanes through which much of the world’s oil supplies flow.
A day after the Defense Department announced the deployment of an additional 1,000 troops to the region, Pompeo stressed that President Trump doesn’t want war and only wants to reestablish a deterrent to Iranian threats.
‘‘President Trump does not want war, and we will continue to communicate that message, while doing the things that are necessary to protect American interests in the region,’’ he told reporters at Central Command headquarters in Tampa.
Pompeo said he made the trip to Florida to meet with commanders who would be responsible for any operations in the Gulf to ensure that America’s diplomatic and military efforts are coordinated ‘‘to make sure that we’re in the position to do the right thing.’’ The ‘‘right thing,’’ he said, ‘‘is to continue to work to convince the Islamic Republic of Iran that we are serious and to deter them from further aggression in the region.’’
Trump, in an interview published Monday night, characterized alleged attacks by Iran against two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman as ‘‘very minor’’ and suggested that the United States might not go to war to protect international oil supplies.
Trump’s assessment in Time magazine reflected a softer posture than that of senior administration officials at the Pentagon and the State Department, as well as some congressional Republicans, as tensions between the United States and Iran have flared recently.
In the interview, Trump said he would ‘‘certainly’’ go to war to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
‘‘I would keep the other a question mark,’’ he said when asked whether he would take military action in response to attacks on oil tankers.
Last week, Trump administration officials blamed Iran for attacks against Norwegian and Japanese oil tankers.
‘‘So far, it’s been very minor,’’ he told Time, referring to those and other recent attacks the United States has blamed on Iran.
Meanwhile Tuesday, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, said that while ‘‘we do not wage war with any nation,’’ Iranians will withstand mounting US pressure and emerge victorious.
His comments came after Iran announced on Monday that it could soon start enriching uranium to just a step away from weapons-grade levels, a challenge to Trump’s assurances to allies that the US withdrawal from the deal last year made the world a safer place.
The Pentagon responded by ordering the additional troops to the region, including security forces for additional surveillance and intelligence-gathering.
Iran has denied responsibility for the attacks on the oil tankers. With details murky and no one owning up to the incidents, the Pentagon released new photos intended to bolster its case.
In announcing the new deployment before he resigned, Shanahan said the forces are ‘‘for defensive purposes to address air, naval, and ground-based threats’’ in the Mideast.
‘‘The United States does not seek conflict with Iran,’’ Shanahan said, describing the move as intended ‘‘to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests.’’
He said the United States will continue to adjust troop levels as needed.
Material from the Washington Post was used in this report.