According to a Monday report by the NY Times, President Trump last Thursday inquired about his options for action against Iran’s main nuclear site in Natanz (Trump Sought Options for Attacking Iran to Stop Its Growing Nuclear Program). The conversation in the Oval Office with the president’s senior advisors followed the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Wednesday’s report that Iran had increased its uranium stockpile to 12 times the amount it was permitted under the 2015 nuclear agreement.
The IAEA also reported that Iran was not permitting it access to a second site where the agency suspected there was more increased nuclear activity.
In Thursday’s meeting, all of the people in the room – Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley – were against the idea, fearing that a US attack would escalate into an open-ended war.
Last week, President Trump carried out sweeping changes in the Department of Defense, staring with the firing of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and followed by the removal of several of the department’s most senior officials, replacing them with the president’s staunch loyalists. The unprecedented flurry of changes just weeks before the end of the president’s term in office filled Pentagon officials with a growing sense of alarm about the president’s plans.
Someone in the defense apparatus decided to leak to the New York Times the possibility that Trump wanted to hit Iran’s major nuclear plant.
According to the Times’ report, Pompeo and General Milley warned the president about the risks of military escalation, and the senior officials left the meeting expecting that a US attack inside Iran was not going to take place.
The IAEA reported that Iran has stockpiled more than 2,442 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, enough to produce two nuclear weapons – after several months of processing to enrich the uranium to bomb-grade level. Although it is a breach of the nuclear agreement, it is still far less than the amount Iran possessed before the July 2015 deal, which was more than 11,000 kg.