November 18, 2020

After Election Loss, Trump Sought Options for Attacking Iran

Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned President Trump against a strike on Iran and described the potential risks of military escalation.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

He was dissuaded from moving ahead by advisers who warned that it could escalate into a broader conflict in his last weeks in office.

By Eric Schmitt, Maggie Haberman, David E. Sanger, Helen Cooper, and Lara Jakes

President Trump asked senior advisers in an Oval Office meeting on Thursday whether he had options to take action against Iran’s main nuclear site in the coming weeks. The meeting occurred a day after international inspectors reported a significant increase in the country’s stockpile of nuclear material, four current and former U.S. officials said on Monday.

A range of senior advisers dissuaded the president from moving ahead with a military strike. The advisers — including Vice President Mike Pence; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Christopher C. Miller, the acting defense secretary; and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — warned that a strike against Iran’s facilities could easily escalate into a broader conflict in the last weeks of Mr. Trump’s presidency.

Any strike — whether by missile or cyber — would almost certainly be focused on Natanz, where the International Atomic Energy Agency reported on Wednesday that Iran’s uranium stockpile was now 12 times larger than permitted under the nuclear accord that Mr. Trump abandoned in 2018. The agency also noted that Iran had not allowed it access to another suspected site where there was evidence of past nuclear activity.

Mr. Trump asked his top national security aides what options were available and how to respond, officials said.