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Trump Bucked National Security Aids on Proposed Iran Attack



WASHINGTON-President Trump bucked most of his top national-security advisers by abandoning retaliatory strikes in Iran on Thursday. In private conversations Friday, Mr.

"These people want to push us into a war, and it's so disgusting," Mr Trump said. . Trump told a confidant about his own inner circle of advisers. "We do not need any more wars."

In these conversations, Mr. Trump has been struggling with the cost of a drone shot down by Iran – about $ 130 million before research and development – but told the dollar figure would resonate less with the US. voters than the potential casualties. The president said the estimates provided to him showed as many as 150 people could have been killed. "I do not want to kill 1

50 Iranians," he told reporters on Saturday, adding that he had Iranian friends back home in New York. "I do not want to kill 150 of anything or anyone, unless it's absolutely necessary."

On Saturday, Mr. Trump backed and new course of action: Another round of sanctions on Tehran will be formally announced on Monday, though he did not offer any further details. The administration's current package of sanctions against Iran has pushed the country's economy into a multi-annual contraction and increased tensions in the region. But the measures have yet to persuade Tehran to open negotiations with Mr. Trump, who is seeking an agreement to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions

While many of Mr. Trump's top advisors backed a more aggressive set of strike options, Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, struck a more wary note, which had an overwhelming influence on the president.

Mr. Trump himself Saturday has publicly described the conflict within his own team that remained a sore spot for some involved. He praised Gen. Dunford for advising caution, while singling out his past disagreements with his hawkish national-security advisor John Bolton, who was the driving force behind the proposed strikes.

Mr. Trump described Gen. Dunford, who said officials has developed a personal rapport with the president, as "a terrific man and a terrific general." Bolton's support for the Iraqi war during President George W. Bush's administration, saying it was a big mistake

"John Bolton is doing a good job, but he generally takes a hard posture" Trump told reporters at the White House. "The only one that matters is me."

The president is known for seeking a range of opinions, and he did that again amid rising tensions with Iran, even reaching out to Fox News host Tucker Carlson, according to people familiar with those conversations. Mr. Carlson has opposed military intervention in Iran on his prime-time television show.

Mr. Trump said he wanted a certain amount of division within his team as he made a decision, and he suggested he was proud of how it reflected on him

"Everybody was saying I'm a warmonger, and now they're saying I 'm and dove, "Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House. "And I'm not, if you want to know the truth. I'm a man with a common sense. "

But members of Mr. Trump's team was not pleased with the president about the internal schism, which seemed to strain the fragile alliance within this group at another period of transition, according to administration officials. It was unclear whether the division within the team-which includes Mr. Trump's third national security adviser, second secretary of state and third official in charge of the Defense Department, would heal or continue to fester.

As an illustration of the back-scandal squabbling Saturday, one administration official said the Pentagon thwarted agreed-upon plans in Iran by using backchannels to provide Mr. Trump with inaccurate estimates of casualties. This official said a Pentagon attorney sent the estimate to the White House's Counsel's Office, which gave it to the President.

But another government official dismissed the accusations as sour grapes. One official said the number of 150 casualties was generated at the White House, not the Pentagon, which routinely uses a "collateral damage assessment" of its own with any significant military operation. But the military's range of options did not include a number that high, two officials said.

Spokesmen for the White House and the Pentagon declined to comment

"As senior military adviser to the president, Gen. Dunford has provided his military advice on Iran, "said Col. Pat Ryder, and spokesman for Gen. Dunford. "However, I have nothing to say about President Trump's comments. As a matter of policy, we do not discuss deliberations. "

Mr. Trump, for his part, acknowledged that the estimate came from the attorneys, but ultimately was delivered to him by a general. Asked whether it was Gen. Dunford, the Pentagon's top military officer, President Trump declined to say directly, responding: "I had a long talk with Dunford. He's a great gentleman. "

The attack on a U.S. drone was just the latest in a series of provocative actions from Tehran and was prompted by a national-security team meeting Thursday morning-a breakfast in the White House-at Mr. Bolton's request.

The breakfast is a weekly meeting for Mr. Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. On Thursday, it also included Gen. Dunford, who said officials have emerged as an influential voice inside the Pentagon, and Mark Esper, whom Mr. Trump has said he will nominate to replace Mr. Shanahan atop the Defense Department

A response to Iran dominated the discussion and, according to many officials, a unanimous agreement was reached to recommend military action. That recommendation included strikes against a few Iranian targets, according to a person familiar with the planning.

But Gen. Dunford, who canceled a trip to Afghanistan scheduled for Saturday as tensions with Iran escalated, rarely provides such specific advice and did not take the Thursday breakfast, according to many officials familiar with the planning. Gen. Dunford typically offers a straightforward analysis of each option, making these options clear without the weighting of one option over the other, these people said.

Military officials have long said they do not seek a conflict with Iran. They were concerned about the casualties and about ensuring any strike option was proportional, but they also worried about an Iranian response. The U.S. the military's presence in the region has been reduced over the years, and no one has sought to stumble into a conflict with military operations with reduced capabilities, a number of officials said.

Mr. Pompeo was supportive of strikes at the breakfast but also more understanding of the reluctance that others perceived coming from the Defense Department, administration and White House officials. Vice President Mike Pence supported the strikes in a national-security meeting later that morning, then supported the president's decision to halt them, according to these officials.

At that national security meeting, the recommended option was presented to the president, officials said. Casualties were discussed and the president agreed to the plan, one official said. "The president acknowledged there may be casualties. Full stop, "the official said.

On Saturday, Mr. Trump said his team had brought him a "great plan," but added that the casualty estimate was imprecise. He made clear that no final approval would be given until later.

"They gave me very odd numbers," Mr. Trump said about his national-security team. "I wanted an accurate count."

That estimate came later on Thursday: 150 potential casualties, or about 40 to 50 at each strike, Mr. Trump explained on Saturday

But one administration official disputed that estimate, saying it was a worst-case scenario for a strike that happened in the middle of the day. The strikes were planned for midnight, when there would have been a few casualties at each location, the official said.

That still may have been too many for Mr. Trump. "19659031] -Vivian Salama has contributed to this article.

" This is a lot when you shoot down an unmanned "drone, the president said Saturday, when asked about the casualty estimates. Corrections & Amplifications
President Trump has said he will nominate Mark Esper to run the Defense Department. Mike Esper (6/22/2019)

Write to Michael C. Bender at Mike.Bender@wsj.com and Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold @ wsj.com


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