Trump Weighing More Aggressive Iran Strategy

Trump Weighing More Aggressive Iran StrategyTrump Weighing More Aggressive Iran Strategy

US President Donald Trump is weighing a strategy that could allow more aggressive responses to Iran's forces, its allies in Iraq and Syria and its support for resistance groups, according to six current and former US officials.

The proposal was prepared by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, and other top officials, and presented to Trump at a National Security Council meeting on Friday, the sources told Reuters.

It could be agreed and made public before the end of September, two of the sources said. All of the sources are familiar with the draft and requested anonymity because Trump has yet to act on it.

In contrast to detailed instructions handed down by former president, Barack Obama, and some of his predecessors, Trump is expected to set broad strategic objectives and goals for US policy but leave it to US military commanders, diplomats and other US officials to implement the plan, said a senior administration official.

"Whatever we end up with, we want to implement with allies to the greatest extent possible," the official added.

The plan is intended to increase pressure on Tehran to curb its ballistic missile program and support for resistance groups, several sources said.

"I would call it a broad strategy for the range of [alleged] Iranian malign activities: financial materials, support for terror, destabilization in the region, especially Syria and Iraq and Yemen," contended another senior administration official.

"The proposal also targets cyber espionage and other activity and potentially nuclear proliferation," the official added.

Tehran says its nuclear program has no military aspects and is only for peaceful purposes, which have been confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The administration is still debating a new stance on the 2015 agreement, sealed by Obama, to curb Iran's nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. The draft urges consideration of tougher economic sanctions if Iran violates the 2015 agreement.

The proposal includes more aggressive US interceptions of alleged Iranian arms shipments such as those to Houthi fighters in Yemen and Palestinian groups in Gaza and Egypt's Sinai, a current official and a knowledgeable former US official said.

In addition, US naval forces could react more forcefully when confronted by armed speedboats operated by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz, three of the sources said.

The US Navy every now and then claims that IRGC boats make threatening approaches to its ships in the passageway that handles 35% of the world's seaborne oil exports.

IRGC says it has every right to patrol the sea to avert any illegal entry into Iranian territorial waters by extra-regional forces.

US commanders now are permitted to open fire only when they think their vessels and the lives of their crews are endangered. The sources offered no details of the proposed changes in the rules, which are classified.

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The plan does not include an escalation of US military activity in Syria and Iraq. Trump's national security aides argued that a more muscular military response to Iranian allies in Syria and Iraq would complicate the US-led fight against the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group, which they argued should remain the top priority, four of the sources said.

Mattis and McMaster, as well as the heads of the US Central Command and US Special Forces Command, have opposed allowing US commanders in Syria and Iraq to react more forcefully to activities by IRGC, Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias, the four sources said.

The advisors are concerned that more permissive rules of engagement would divert US forces from defeating the IS remnants, they said.

Looser rules could embroil the US in a conflict with Iran while US forces were overstretched after Trump authorized a small troop increase for Afghanistan, said one senior administration official.

A former US official said Hezbollah and Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have been "very helpful" in recapturing vast swaths of the caliphate that Islamic State declared in Syria and Iran in 2014.

Trump's opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, poses a dilemma for policymakers.

Most of his national security aides favor remaining in the pact, said US officials involved in the discussions.

"The main issue for us was to get the president not to discard the JCPOA. But he had very strong feelings, backed by [US Ambassador to the United Nations] Nikki Haley, that they should be more aggressive with Iran," one of the two US officials said.

"Almost all the strategies presented to him were ones that tried to preserve the JCPOA but lean forward on these other [issues]."


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