USA officials seek to tamp down Trump rhetoric on Iran

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Potential attacks by Iran have been "put on hold" by US counter-measures, acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Tuesday.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who called for clarification on Iran from the White House earlier this week, had this to say after the highly classified briefing.

The criticism came a day after top officials in the Trump administration were dispatched to Capitol Hill to brief lawmakers about the escalating tensions with Iran, saying afterward they are focused on trying to deter attacks and avoid war. Trump floated the idea of negotiations, but said it's exclusively up to Iran to take the first step.

"Look at what they've done: Walked away from the agreement we had with allies, unlikely allies, all around the world to stop the development of nuclear weapons in Iran", Durbin said.

Relations between Washington and Tehran plummeted a year ago when Trump pulled out of a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and imposed tough sanctions.

A second veteran GOP foreign policy hand said the Democratic Party is courting Iran as it seeks to obstruct the Trump administration on priorities both foreign and domestic.

President Trump past year unilaterally withdrew the USA from a nuclear deal with Iran and five world powers.

Analysts believe that if attacked, Iran could rely on those militant groups to target American troops, Israel and other USA allies in the region.

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But by increasing production, Iran soon will exceed the stockpile limitations set by the nuclear accord.

Trump further stoked the fire in a tweet on Sunday that suggested Iran would be destroyed if it attacked United States interests.

He said Iran took this step because the United States had ended a programme allowing it to exchange enriched uranium to Russian Federation for unprocessed yellowcake uranium, as well as ending the sale of heavy water to Oman.

Iranian nuclear officials are claiming that the country is quadrupling its production of enriched uranium.

National security adviser John Bolton also announced that the US was sending a carrier strike group to the region "to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force". Tehran has set a July 7 deadline for Europe to set new terms for the deal, or it will enrich closer to weapons-grade levels in a Mideast already on edge.

A prominent reformist lawmaker in Iran has reportedly said the Islamic Republic "under no circumstance" will enter a war with the USA, either directly or through proxy forces.

Iran has allegedly sabotaged oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and Yemen's Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels have carried out drone attacks on Saudi oil pumping stations amid U.S. intelligence warnings that Iran or Iran-backed groups could threaten USA interests.

Since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, Tehran has worked to leverage relationships with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, Hamas in the Gaza Strip and others to counter what it perceives as the threat from America's vast military presence across the Mideast.