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US Again Says Not Seeking War With Iran, As Leaders Gather For G20

Acting U.S. Secretary for Defense Mark Esper, left, speaks during a press point with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg prior to a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, June 26, 2019

Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper says the United States does not want to go to war with Iran, however, it cannot tolerate any incidents.

He made the comment in a meeting in Brussels with America's NATO allies on Thursday June 27.

Esper's reference to incidents include episodes such as recent attacks on oil tankers and the downing of a U.S. drone by Iran’s IRGC which led to a dramatic escalation of tensions between Tehran and Washington.

"We do not seek armed conflict with Iran but we are ready to defend U.S. forces and interests in the region. No one should mistake restraint for weakness," Esper said.

Washington has held Iran responsible for in cases, but Iran denies attacking oil tankers and claims that the drone had violated Iranian airspace.

"One important message is that the United States has so clearly stated that they don't want a war. They actually said very clearly that they are ready to talk with Iran without a precondition," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference on Thursday.

However, at the meeting, French Defence Minister Florence Parly reportedly told Esper not to involve the NATO alliance in any military mission in the Persian Gulf.

Meanwhile, representatives of Washington's European allies at the meeting called for upholding the nuclear deal with Iran. They also called on both Tehran and Washington to de-escalate the tensions in the region while reportedly sharing intelligence that implicated Iran or militia linked to it in the attack on oil tankers.

In another development, continuing the war of words with U.S. officials, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet on Thursday that U.S. President Donald Trump's view that a conflict with Iran would be a "short war" was an illusion and that his threat of "obliteration" amounted to threatening "genocide".

Other Iranian officials insisted that Iran would stop respecting the agreed limits on stockpiles of enriched uranium as well as those for heavy water.

Germany, France and the UK have sought to salvage the nuclear deal by offering to help Iran with its international banking regardless of U.S. sanctions, but so far their promise has remained unmet. However, EU officials insist the deal is not dead and have engaged in intense diplomacy with Tehran, despite an upsurge of tensions in the Gulf.

According to a diplomatic source in Vienna, where the UN nuclear watchdog IAEA is based, said on Thursday Iran would not exceed the uranium stockpile limit agreed in the deal, despite Tehran previously giving June 27 as an ultimatum to Europe, adding that Iran might have a "political reason" for this, referring to intensive diplomaticefforts by European governments in recent days.

In the meantime, French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters that he is going to ask President Trump, while in Japan for the Group-20 summit, to lift some of the sanctions imposed on Iran.

Both Trump and Macron arrived in Osaka, Japan on Thursday for the summit.

Macron also told Iran's President Hassan Rouhani not to leave the nuclear deal with the West, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as that would be a mistake.

It is not clear if Macron has held any confidential talks with Iran to come up with the idea of curtailing U.S. sanctions, but what intensified the recent tensions was Washington’s decision at the end of April to end exemptions to some countries for buying a limited amount of Iranian oil, which generated at least some income for cash-strapped rulers in Tehran.