The United States appears to be taking a carrot-and-stick approach to Tehran, threatening “swift and decisive” response to any Iranian attack, while at the same time urging the country’s leaders to sit down for talks.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 9 said in a statement that “our restraint to this point should not be mistaken by Iran for a lack of resolve."
"The regime in Tehran should understand that any attacks by them or their proxies of any identity against U.S. interests or citizens will be answered with a swift and decisive U.S. response," Pompeo said.
"We do not seek war," he said.
"But Iran's 40 years of killing American soldiers, attacking American facilities, and taking American hostages is a constant reminder that we must defend ourselves," said Pompeo, in a reference to the 1979 Islamic Revolution during which U.S. diplomats were taken captive.
Pompeo’s comments came after President Donald Trump asked Iranian leaders to “call me.”
"What I would like to see with Iran, I would like to see them call me," Trump told reporters at the White House.
Still, the president said he could not rule out a military confrontation given the tense environment.
"I guess you could say that always, right? I don't want to say no, but hopefully that won't happen," he said.
Tensions have been building on several fronts between Washington and Tehran.
The United States on May 8 tightened the screws further on Iran with sanctions on its metals industry on the day Tehran said it was suspending some of its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Washington had already moved to restrict Iran’s oil exports, the country's largest source of hard currency.
The U.S. military has also sent an aircraft carrier battle group to the waters near Iran, and Pompeo on May 7 paid an unannounced visit to Baghdad, where he met with Iraqi officials to discuss U.S. security concerns amid what he called “escalating” Iranian activity.
The moves come around the May 8 one-year anniversary of Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from the landmark 2015 nuclear accord, which was aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear program in return for relief from sanctions.
Tehran did not immediately respond to the latest remarks by Pompeo and Trump.
But it earlier said that it would no longer sell its surplus enriched uranium and heavy water to other nations as stipulated in the nuclear agreement. It also threatened to enrich its uranium stockpile closer to weapons-grade levels in 60 days if world powers fail to negotiate new terms.
In Washington, the special assistant to the U.S. president and senior director for weapons of mass destruction, Tim Morrison, said Iran’s announcement was "nothing less than nuclear blackmail of Europe."
Britain, France, Germany, and the European Union on May 9 reiterated that they remain committed to the nuclear deal but also warned that they would "reject any ultimatums" by Tehran regarding the terms of the accord.
"Iran must remain in this agreement and we must all work to make sure it remains," French President Emmanuel Macron said.
"We must not get jumpy or fall into escalation," Macron said. "That's why France is staying in [the deal], and will stay in, and I profoundly hope Iran will stay in."
When Trump withdrew from the deal, he said it was “fatally flawed” because it did not address Iran’s ballistic-missile program or Tehran’s alleged state sponsorship of terrorism, which it denies.
Britain, France, and Germany have attempted to keep the deal alive, but they have also expressed concerns about Tehran's continued testing of ballistic missiles. China and Russia also signed the accord and have vowed to remain part of the deal.