WASHINGTON, June 18 (Reuters)
U.S. President Donald Trump would consider using military force to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon but left open the question if it involved protecting oil supplies, he told Time magazine in an interview published on Tuesday.
Striking a different tone than some Republican lawmakers who have urged a military response, Trump told Time the impact of the recent attacks on Norwegian and Japanese oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman had been "very minor" so far.
Asked whether he would consider military action against Iran to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons or ensure the free flow of oil through the gulf, the president said, "I would certainly go over nuclear weapons, and I would keep the other a question mark."
The United States has blamed Iran for the tanker attacks, citing as evidence a series of images showing an Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps boat removing an unexploded limpet mine from the hull of the Japanese oil tanker attacked on June 13.
Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Monday the United States was deploying about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East for defensive purposes, citing concerns about the threat from Iran.
Tensions have been stoking between Washington and Tehran since the Trump administration decided last year to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions on the Islamic republic.
Concerns about a possible confrontation between the two countries have been growing since last week's tanker attacks. Iran said on Monday it would soon breach internationally agreed curbs on its stock of low-enriched uranium in 10 days, despite calls for it to abide by the limits.
Trump said he agreed with U.S. intelligence assessments that Iran was behind the tanker attacks, but he said Tehran had been less hostile toward the United States since he became president.
"If you look at the rhetoric now compared to the days when they were signing that agreement (the 2015 Iran nuclear deal), where it was always 'death to America, death to America, we will destroy America, we will kill America,' I'm not hearing that too much anymore," Trump told Time. "And I don't expect to." (Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)