The White House is said to have asked the Pentagon to draw up options for military strikes against Iran last year.
The request was made after two incidents in Iraq in September, the first of which saw Shia militia fire three mortar shells into the diplomatic district of Baghdad, where the US has its embassy.
The second saw missiles fired by unknown militants fell near the US consulate in the southern Iraqi city of Basra a few days later.
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The National Security Council, led by Donald Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton, is said to have asked for the plans.
The seriousness of his request unnerved officials from state and defence departments, according to The Wall Street Journal, citing current and former officials. While planning for the potential future conflict is part of the normal operation for an administration, the tone of the request is said to have caused concern.
According to the paper, Mira Ricardel, the former deputy national security advisor, described the attacks in Iraq as “an act of war,” and said that the US needed to respond accordingly.
“It definitely rattled people,” a former senior US administration official was quoted as saying. “People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.”
The Pentagon reportedly complied with Mr Bolton’s request, though it’s unclear if Mr Trump was aware of it or if a serious plan was developed.
Mr Bolton is an advocate of a hardline policy towards Iran. In a speech at the end of September, Mr Bolton warned that if Tehran harmed the US or its allies, there would be “hell to pay”.
“If you cross us, our allies, or our partners; if you harm our citizens; if you continue to lie, cheat, and deceive, yes, there will indeed be hell to pay,” he said.
Mr Trump pulled the US out of an international nuclear deal with Iran in May 2018. The deal had been signed by Barack Obama, as well as the leaders of the UK, China, Russia, France, Germany and the European Union in 2015. Mr Trump also ordered a tough sanctions campaign in the autumn.
In a statement on Sunday, Garrett Marquis of the National Security Council said that the organisation “coordinates policy and provides the president with options to anticipate and respond to a variety of threat”.
He added: “We continue to review the status of our personnel following attempted attacks on our embassy in Baghdad and our Basra consulate, and we will consider a full range of options to preserve their safety and our interests.”
Secretary of state Mike Pompeo is on a tour of the Middle East, pushing the administration’s position on Iran. On Sunday, he was in Saudi Arabia, having flown in from Qatar, calling for the region to unify against the threat posed by Iran.
Iran was angered by Mr Pompeo’s announcement last week that Poland will host an international conference on Iran in February.
On Sunday, Iranian authorities summoned Warsaw’s top diplomat in the country and called off a Polish film festival.
The moves followed a tweet by Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who denounced the upcoming summit as America’s anti-Iran “circus”.
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