The Trump administration has been on high alert in response to what military and intelligence officials have deemed specific and credible threats from Iran against U.S. personnel in the Middle East.
But President Trump is frustrated with some of his top advisers, who he thinks could rush the United States into a military confrontation with Iran and shatter his long-standing pledge to withdraw from costly foreign wars, according to several U.S. officials. Trump prefers a diplomatic approach to resolving tensions and wants to speak directly with Iran’s leaders.
Disagreements over assessing and responding to the recent intelligence — which includes a directive from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that some American officials interpret as a threat to U.S. personnel in the Middle East — are also fraying alliances with foreign allies, according to multiple officials in the United States and Europe.
Trump grew angry last week and over the weekend about what he sees as warlike planning that is getting ahead of his own thinking, said a senior administration official with knowledge of conversations Trump had regarding national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“They are getting way out ahead of themselves, and Trump is annoyed,” the official said. “There was a scramble for Bolton and Pompeo and others to get on the same page.”
Bolton, who advocated regime change in Iran before joining the White House last year, is “just in a different place” from Trump, although the president has been a fierce critic of Iran since long before he hired Bolton. Trump “wants to talk to the Iranians; he wants a deal” and is open to negotiation with the Iranian government, the official said.
“He is not comfortable with all this ‘regime change’ talk,” which to his ears echoes the discussion of removing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein before the 2003 U.S. invasion, said the official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.