Trump playing down threat of war with Iran

U.S. Air Force a U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress aircraft assigned to the 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron takes off from Al Udeid Air Base Qatar

Middle East tensions take an ominous turn

Trump directly informed Shanahan that he does not want to see the USA go to war with Iran during a briefing on the status of US forces in the Middle East in the White House Situation Room on Wednesday, the New York Times reported, sending a message to hawkish White House aides who have been accused of pushing the USA toward conflict.

President Trump suggested Thursday that he wasn't gunning for a military conflict with Iran. A series of attacks Sunday on four commercial oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, less than 100 miles away from the Strait of Hormuz, has gone unclaimed, though USA officials reportedly suspected Iran.

On Friday, an official with the IRGC warned that Iranian missiles can "easily reach warships" in the Gulf and elsewhere in the Middle East.

"America can not afford the costs of a new war, and the country is in a bad situation in terms of manpower and social conditions", he added.

Administration officials ordered the withdrawal of non-emergency personnel from USA embassies in neighboring Iraq on Wednesday morning, after warning of unspecified threats from Iran. Tehran has described those steps as "psychological warfare" and a "political game".

In a series of Tweets on Wednesday, President Donald Trump denied that there was infighting among his aides on the Iran policy and said, "I'm sure that Iran will want to talk soon".

Last week, USA officials said they had detected signs of Iranian preparations for potential attacks on USA forces and interests in the Middle East, but Washington has not spelled out that threat.

"No, there is no possibility for negotiations", Mohammad Javad Zarif said when asked in an interview with reporters Thursday in Tokyo whether he would be open to holding bilateral talks aimed at easing tensions, including discussions of a proposed prisoner swap.

But he has also made clear that he will protect USA interests in the region, one official said.

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Another longtime rival of Iran, Saudi Arabia released one of the harshest condemnations of the attack on the oil tankers on Monday.

The "ability to provide routine and emergency services to US citizens in Iraq is extremely limited" due to the current security situation, State Department officials said in an alert.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said this week Tehran would not negotiate another nuclear deal after Washington a year ago quit a 2015 global pact that put curbs on Iran's potential pathway to build a nuclear bomb in exchange for the lifting of worldwide sanctions.

Under the accord, Tehran curbed its uranium enrichment capacity, a potential pathway to a nuclear bomb, and won sanctions relief in return. Trump's criticized the deal and alleged violations on the part of Iran, even as his own administration's officials like then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis said none existed. The semi-official Fars news agency quoted Mohammad Saleh Jokar, deputy for parliamentary affairs of the IRGC, saying that Iran's missiles have a range of 2,000km.

The Swiss have acted as the official protector of United States interests in Iran since the relations broke off between Washington and Tehran in 1980, and has at different stages helped in mediation efforts between the two.

The Mehr news agency quoted Iranian army chief warning the United States against miscalculations. "Unfortunately, our Japanese partners also have not taken action to implement JCPOA", he said.

"You wanted a better deal with Iran".

The United States and the U.N. nuclear watchdog believe Iran had a nuclear weapons program that it abandoned.

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