White House Sought Op­tions to Strike Iran

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WASH­ING­TON (Dis­patches) - On a warm night in early Septem­ber, mil­i­tants fired three mor­tars into Bagh­dad’s sprawl­ing diplo­matic quar­ter, home to the U.S. Em­bassy.

The shells—launched by a group aligned with Iran—landed in an open lot, harm­ing no one. But they trig­gered un­usual alarm in Wash­ing­ton, where Pres­i­dent Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity team con­ducted a se­ries of meet­ings to dis­cuss a force­ful Amer­i­can re­sponse.

As part of the talks, Mr. Trump’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, led by John Bolton, asked the Pen­tagon to pro­vide the White House with mil­i­tary op­tions to strike Iran. The re­quest, which hasn’t been pre­vi­ously re­ported, gen­er­ated con­cern at the Pen­tagon and State Depart­ment, cur­rent and for­mer U.S. of­fi­cials say.

“It def­i­nitely rat­tled peo­ple,” said one for­mer se­nior U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial. “Peo­ple were shocked. It was mind-bog­gling how cav­a­lier they were about hit­ting Iran.”

The Pen­tagon com­plied with the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil’s re­quest to de­velop op­tions for strik­ing Iran, the of­fi­cials said. But it isn’t clear if the pro­pos­als were pro­vided to the White House, whether Mr. Trump knew of the re­quest or whether se­ri­ous plans for a U.S. strike against Iran took shape at that time.

Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, here vis­it­ing the U.S. Em­bassy in Bagh­dad this month, joined forces with na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton to de­velop a more ag­gres­sive pol­icy aimed at weak­en­ing the gov­ern­ment in Tehran.

Garrett Mar­quis, a spokesman for the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, said the body “co­or­di­nates pol­icy and pro­vides the pres­i­dent with op­tions to an­tic­i­pate and re­spond to a va­ri­ety of threats.”

“We con­tinue to re­view the sta­tus of our per­son­nel fol­low­ing at­tempted at­tacks on our em­bassy in Bagh­dad and our Basra con­sulate, and we will con­sider a full range of op­tions to pre­serve their safety and our in­ter­ests,” he said.

Mr. Bolton’s re­quest re­flects the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s more con­fronta­tional ap­proach to­ward Tehran, one that he has pushed since tak­ing up the post last April.

As na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Mr. Bolton is charged with pro­vid­ing a range of diplo­matic, mil­i­tary and eco­nomic ad­vice to the pres­i­dent.

For­mer U.S. of­fi­cials said it was un­nerv­ing that the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil asked for far-reach­ing mil­i­tary op­tions to strike Iran in re­sponse to at­tacks that caused lit­tle dam­age and no in­juries.

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