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Trump, in Interview, Says He Prefers Talk to Military Action on Iran

LONDON — President Trump said in a British TV interview broadcast on Wednesday that there was “a chance” of military action against Iran, after months of threats and an apparent de-escalation of tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Mr. Trump made the remarks on ITV’s “Good Morning Britain” to Piers Morgan, the show’s co-host who was the winner of “The Celebrity Apprentice” in the United States in 2007-8 and someone Mr. Trump considers a friend. They were aired during the third and last day of his state visit to Britain.

[Read the latest about Mr. Trump’s visit in our live briefing.]

When Mr. Morgan asked Mr. Trump whether he was considering military action against Iran, the president, who almost never rules anything out, said: “There is always a chance. Do I want to? No, I’d rather not. But there’s always a chance.” He added, “I’d much rather talk.”

Mr. Trump has told his Pentagon chiefs that he does not want war with Iran, but he has also undercut his national security adviser, John R. Bolton, who has been more hawkish. Mr. Bolton asserted last month, without presenting evidence, that naval mines “almost certainly from Iran” were behind explosions that damaged oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.

But on Sunday, in what appeared to be an easing of the United States’ hard-line policy toward Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the Trump administration was ready to negotiate with Iran’s clerical leaders with “no preconditions.”

Mr. Trump’s state visit to Britain has been a whirlwind of ceremonial events with the royal family, including a state banquet on Monday; tea with Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; and political and business meetings on Tuesday with Mrs. May and other top officials in which he urged Britain to forge ahead with plans to quit the European Union, dangling the prospect of a “phenomenal” trade deal with the United States.

On Wednesday, the president joined Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Theresa May in Portsmouth, on the coast of southern England, at a ceremony to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy during World War II.

The president spoke for less than two minutes, reading an excerpt from a prayer that President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered in a radio address on the evening of June 6, 1944, according to White House officials. It said in part:

“Almighty God, our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity. They will need Thy blessings. For the enemy is strong.”

And: “Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.”

In his wide-ranging interview with Mr. Morgan, Mr. Trump was asked about his lack of military service during the Vietnam War, which Mr. Trump has claimed was because of bone spurs in his foot, a claim that has been met with skepticism.

He said he was “never a fan” of that particular war, and insisted that Vietnam had been barely known of. “At that time, nobody ever heard of the country,” he said.

When asked if he would have joined the war effort if not for the bone spurs, Mr. Trump said, “I would not have minded that at all; I would have been honored.”

“I think I make up for it now,” he added.

In the interview, he also cast his ban on transgender people serving in the military as an economic decision and admitted using the word “nasty” in connection with Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.

The discussion with Mr. Morgan was aired amid a state visit that has been marked by a long-running feud with the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and protests that brought thousands of people to the streets of London with new and old props, including the Trump baby balloon and one showing the president sitting on a golden toilet.

Mr. Trump, who is often unsettled by reports of protests, sought to play down the demonstrations, calling them “fake news” in a news conference with Mrs. May on Tuesday and tweeting on Wednesday that there were actually “big crowds” supporting him.

Mr. Trump had set the stage for his second trip to Britain as president with other interviews, in The Sun and The Sunday Times, both Rupert Murdoch-owned newspapers. Asked by The Sun’s reporter about criticisms that the former Meghan Markle, Prince Harry’s wife, made about him in 2016, Mr. Trump replied, “I didn’t know she was nasty.” He later denied saying the word nasty, even though the exchange had been recorded.

On Wednesday, however, Mr. Trump acknowledged to Mr. Morgan: “They said some of the things that she said and, it’s actually on tape. And I said, ‘Well, I didn’t know she was nasty.’ I wasn’t referring to she’s nasty. I said she was nasty about me. And, essentially, I didn’t know she was nasty about me.”

Mr. Morgan was at his most adversarial when he asked why Mr. Trump claimed to support rights for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people, but was enforcing a ban on transgender people serving in the American military.

Mr. Trump repeatedly cast it as an economic decision, and suggested that transgender people were signing up for service as a way to have surgical costs covered.

“They take massive amounts of drugs. They have to,” he said, adding, “You’re in the military; you’re not allowed to take any drugs.”

Mr. Morgan interjected: “The U.S. military spends a lot more money, for example, on giving Viagra to servicemen,” he said, “than it does on actual medical bills of transgender people. And so it just seems to me an unnecessary thing for a guy who wants to be supportive of L.G.B.T. rights and the community around the world that you’ve taken this action.”

The president replied: “Well, it is what it is. Look, massive amounts — and also people going in and asking for the operation, you know the operation is $ 200,000, $ 250,000, and getting the operation, the recovery period is long and they have to take large amounts of drugs after that for whatever reason, but large amounts, and that’s not the way it is. I mean, you can’t do that.”

He also said that in his meeting with Prince Charles, a brief chat had turned into a 90-minute discussion. “He is really into climate change, and I think that’s great, I mean I want that, I like that,” Mr. Trump said.

The president has denied that climate change exists, and has questioned the science behind it.

In the interview, Mr. Trump seemed impressed that the prince was concerned about the fate of future generations. “I’ll tell you what moved me is his passion for future generations; he’s really not doing this for him,” he told Mr. Morgan. “He’s doing this for future generations.”

But Mr. Trump said he had dismissed the suggestion that the United States should do more. “I did say,” he said, “ ‘Well, the United States right now has among the cleanest climates there are based on all statistics.’ And it’s even getting better.”

He also called the reality of having control of the United States’ nuclear weapons a “terrible responsibility” for him, but one that he was prepared to handle.

Source: NYT > World

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