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Report: Trump asked advisers about attacking Iran’s nuke facilities last week

President Donald J. Trump, joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, attends a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, July 16, 2019, in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
November 17, 2020

President Donald Trump reportedly sought options last week to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, but was dissuaded by advisors who warned it could spark conflict with Iran, according to four current and former U.S. officials who spoke to the New York Times.

The New York Times reported that Trump held an Oval Office meeting to discuss options on Iran on Thursday, a day after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concluded that Iran’s uranium stockpile had grown to 12 times the limit set by the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Advisors in the Oval Office meeting — including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley — warned that a strike on Iran’s facilities would likely set off a broader conflict.

Officials told the New York Times that Trump had asked what options were available and how could the U.S. respond to the report of Iran’s increased uranium stockpile.

Any strike within Iran, whether by missile or cyber-attack, would likely target Iran’s Natanz facility, according to the New York Times. Natanz is the facility where the IAEA report identified the Iranian uranium stockpile in breach of the Iran nuclear deal. Under the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran is allowed to stockpile 202.8 kilograms (447 pounds) of uranium, but according to the latest IAEA report, it has instead stockpiled 2,442.9 kilograms (5385.7 pounds) of uranium.

Iran’s uranium stockpile, in breach of the 2015 nuclear deal’s terms, raises the potential for a nuclear-armed Iran. According to an Institute for Science and International Security analysis of the IAEA report, Iran has sufficient low enriched uranium to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for two nuclear weapons within about six months.

During the meeting, Pompeo and Milley reportedly laid out the potential risks of military escalation if Trump were to act against Iran. Trump’s advisors reportedly left the meeting believing a missile strike inside Iran was no longer a potential option.

The New York Times reported Trump may still be considering options for striking Iran’s assets and allies elsewhere, including targeting Iran-backed militias in Iraq. Diplomats have told the New York Times that Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi would almost certainly object to the U.S. killing of Iraqis on Iraqi soil, even if they are part of Iranian-backed militias.

The New York Times reported Trump may not want to initiate conflict with Iran as it may not play well with his base of supporters, but that conflict with Iran could also hinder a potential Biden administration effort to bring the U.S. back into the Iran nuclear deal, after Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement in 2018.