'Something could go bang': Fears spike over what Trump could do before leaving office

·3-min read

As relations between Iran and the United States deteriorate further, Donald Trump reportedly asked top military officials about options to attack the nation’s main nuclear site before he leaves the White House.

Trump made the request during a meeting on Thursday last week (local time) 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, Reuters reported, citing an offical that confirmed the details.

Trump ultimately decided against a strike, but the report has raised concerns about what he might do during his final weeks in the White House.

Donald Trump and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The Trump administration has rolled out new sanctions, targeting Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (right).

“He asked for options. They gave him the scenarios and he ultimately decided not to go forward,” the official said.

Trump has spent all four years of his presidency engaging in an aggressive policy against Iran, withdrawing in 2018 from the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, and imposing economic sanctions against a wide variety of Iranian targets.

Trump’s request for options came a day after a UN watchdog report showed Iran had finished moving a first cascade of advanced centrifuges 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.

Satellite image shows Iran's Natanz Nuclear Facility.
Satellite image shows Iran's Natanz Nuclear Facility where it's reported that Iran’s uranium stockpile is now 12 times larger than permitted under the nuclear deal Trump abandoned in 2018. Source: Reuters/Maxar Technologies

Analysts’ fears of ‘serious escalation’ mount

Trump has begun clearing out some of the top officials at the Defence Department, which has alarmed analysts says Dr Sanam Vakil, a senior research fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

“I think for the time being perhaps caution has prevailed, but analysts like myself remain very concerned that over the next two months, something could go bang,” she told ABC radio Thursday morning.

“For now there is no serious escalation but I think the Trump administration intends to weaken president-elect Biden’s plan as much as possible, to prevent any successful negotiation on Iran’s nuclear program and perhaps regional tensions,” she said.

“These are two areas where president Trump sought to make gains in the Middle East but failed to do so, and as you know Donald Trump very much cares about his legacy and success. If he wasn’t able to do it, he is going to go down making sure his successor has fewer chances as well.”

On Wednesday, the US imposed broad sanctions targeting Iran, blacklisting a foundation controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and taking aim at what Washington called Iran’s human rights abuses.

The sanctions announced by the US Treasury Department, which also targeted Iran’s intelligence minister, are the latest action to reinforce the “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran pursued by President Trump’s administration.

An Iranian man watches television as the US President Donald Trump addresses a crowd.
An Iranian man watches television as the US President Donald Trump addresses a crowd during a TV program on November 4 in Tehran, Iran. Source: Getty

Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York, called the new sanctions “a sign of desperation” by Trump’s administration.

“These latest attempts to continue a failed policy of ‘maximum pressure’ against Iran and its citizens will fail, just as all other attempts have,” he said.

with Reuters

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