Trump 'talked out of launching missile strike on Iran' days after election loss

President Donald Trump had to be talked down from a missile strike on Iran’s main nuclear site last week, according to reports in the US.

The outgoing President asked for options on attacking the country during a dramatic meeting in the Oval Office last week, but was persuaded that the plan risked war. 

Mr Trump asked ‘whether he had options to take action against Iran’s main nuclear site in the coming weeks,’ The New York Times reported. A US official who confirmed the story also told Reuters: ‘He (Mr Trump) asked for options. They gave him the scenarios and he ultimately decided not to go forward’.

The request came on Thursday during a meeting with his top national security aides, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, new acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The officials persuaded him not to go ahead with the plan and risk a broader conflict in the last weeks of his presidency.

Mr Trump, who has refused to concede the election despite comfortably being beaten by Democratic rival Joe Biden earlier this month, has already killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani during a turbulent four-years in power in which he has been aggressive towards the country.

But a strike on Iran’s main nuclear site at Natanz could flare into a regional conflict and would pose a serious foreign policy challenge for the president-elect.

The White House, and Mr Biden’s transition team — which has not had access to national security intelligence due to the Trump administration’s refusal to begin the transition — have declined comment.

Thursday’s meeting came a day after a UN watchdog report showed Iran had finished moving a material from an above-ground plant at its main uranium enrichment site to an underground one, in a fresh breach of its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that Iran was continuing to stockpile uranium.

According to the Times, the most likely target of any strike would have been Natanz, where the IAEA reported that Tehran’s ‘uranium stockpile was now 12 times larger than permitted under the nuclear accord that Mr Trump abandoned in 2018,’ three years after it was signed.

Mr Trump has been aggressive towards Iran since the start of his presidency, withdrawing in 2018 from the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama, and imposing economic sanctions against a wide variety of Iranian targets.

Iran’s 2.4 tonne stock of low-enriched uranium is now far above the deal’s 202.8 kg limit. It produced 337.5 kg in the quarter, less than the more than 500 kg recorded in the previous two quarters by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In January, Mr Trump ordered a US drone strike that killed General Soleimani at Baghdad’s airport, which threatened to spiral into a broader conflict. 

Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York, said Iran’s nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes and civilian use and Trump’s policies have not changed that. 

He added: ‘However, Iran has proven to be capable of using its legitimate military might to prevent or respond to any melancholy adventure from any aggressor.’

The Trump administration has pledged to step up sanction against Iran, which critics see as an attempt to build up a ‘wall of sanctions’ that Biden would have difficulty tearing down once he takes office.

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