WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday said the Trump administration is “looking for a diplomatic resolution” to diffuse escalating tensions between the United States and Iran even as Pentagon announced plans on Friday to deploy additional troops to the Middle East in response to last week’s attack on Saudi oil facilities.
Pompeo, making the Sunday talk show rounds ahead of Monday’s start of the annual United Nations General Assembly in Manhattan, insisted President Donald Trump is looking to “avoid war” even as Pompeo doubled down on calling the air strikes on the oil fields “an act of war.”
Iran has denied any involvement in the strikes, which the Iranian-backed Houthi Rebel group in Yemen has said it was behind, but Pompeo on Sunday, pointing to evidence displayed by the Saudis last week, reasserted his position that Iran spearheaded the attacks
He called the strikes “a state-on-state act of war,” during an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Asked about Iran’s denial, Pompeo took aim at Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, telling “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan: “I don’t know why anyone listens to the Iranian foreign minister. It’s beneath the dignity of anyone to listen to him.”
Appearing on “Fox News Sunday” Pompeo said “President Trump would like to have a diplomatic solution, that’s the task in front of us.”
“Our mission set is to avoid war,” Pompeo said. “We’re putting additional forces in the region for purposes of deterrence and defense.”
On Friday, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced that Trump has “approved” the deployment of U.S. troops and missile defense equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Pentagon has not indicated how many troops will be deployed, but Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters last week the numbers would be “modest” and “not thousands.”
Zarif, appearing on “Face the Nation” described the deployment as “posturing” by the United States.
"I think it's all going the wrong direction in addressing this issue," Zarif said.
Asked if he was confident that Iran could avoid a war, Zarif told Brennan: “No, I’m not confident that we can avoid a war.”
“I'm confident that we will not start one, but I'm confident that whoever starts one will not be the one who finishes it,” Zarif said.
Trump, who previously floated the prospect of meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at this week’s UN summit, told reporters on Sunday he has “no intention of meeting with Iran” but did not completely discount the possibility.
“Nothing is ever off the table, completely,” Trump told reporters at the White House before departing for events in Texas and Ohio.
Asked about meeting with Trump, Zarif said “we’re ready to talk,” if talks are substantive.
“To meet him for what? For a photo opportunity? Or to meet him for some substance?” Zarif said.