By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. officials who briefed Congress about Iran on Tuesday sought to convince lawmakers that President Donald Trump’s administration wants to deter Tehran’s aggression, not attack the Islamic republic, members of Congress said.
“I hope they’re tamping down (the rhetoric). They tried to give that impression,” Representative Eliot Engel, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters after the classified briefing for the full House of Representatives.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford and Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan held the briefing after lawmakers, including Trump’s fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, clamoured for weeks for more information about escalating tensions with Iran.
The administration officials held a similar briefing, also behind closed doors, for the full Senate later on Tuesday.
“There is no intention to go to war in the region. This is a deterrent operation to stop Iran’s escalation and aggression,” Representative Mike McCaul, the ranking Republican on the foreign affairs panel, told reporters.
Tehran and Washington have been escalating rhetoric against each other in recent weeks, following Trump’s decision to try to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero and beef up the U.S. military presence in the Gulf in response to what he said were Iranian threats.
Trump said the tightened sanctions were intended to push Iran to make concessions beyond the terms of the 2015 international deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program. Trump withdrew the United States from the pact a year ago.
Last week, Washington pulled some diplomatic staff from its embassy in Baghdad following attacks on four oil tankers in the Gulf.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday rejected talks with the United States, after Trump said Iran would call and ask for negotiations “if and when they are ever ready.”
After the briefing, which some participants said had become heated at times, some Democrats accused the administration officials of twisting intelligence to make the case for an aggressive response to any Iranian actions.
“In my opinion, there was not any information there that pointed to any reason why we should be engaging in talk of war with Iran,” said Representative Ruben Gallego, a Democratic member of the House Armed Services Committee.
(Additional reporting by David Alexander; Editing by James Dalgleish)