The U.S. would prefer a diplomatic solution to war with Iran, acting defense chief Mark Esper said Tuesday as he prepared to urge close U.S. allies to fall in line behind Washington in its ongoing feud with Tehran.
"We need to internationalize this issue and have our allies and partners work with us to get Iran to come back to the negotiating table," Esper said, according to Reuters.
His remarks came while traveling to Brussels to attend his inaugural NATO meeting at the helm of the Pentagon.
Close U.S. allies in NATO, however, have been weary of President Donald Trump's approach to Iran after he unilaterally withdrew from an internationally-brokered pact meant to rein in Tehran's nuclear program. Trump did so despite warnings from NATO allies that doing so would inflame tensions and could lead to an unintended conflict.
Asked what he would like to see from the allies, Esper told reporters "Express with us the concern, outrage ... with regard to Iran’s activities in the region. That would be a good first step.
"And then secondly, to support any range of activities we may think merit participation to help, again, deter conflict and show that we’re resolute. What we’re trying to do, what we want to do, is to close the door to conflict and open the door to diplomacy," he said.
Trump earlier Tuesday issued a stark warning to Iran, saying that if it attacks any U.S. target it would face an "overwhelming" response that includes the "obliteration" of at least some sites the U.S. would target.
Later asked by reporters at the Oval Office if he need an exit strategy should war break out with Iran, Trump insisted he does not need one. He did not elaborate.
"I don't do extra strategies," said Trump.
By Michael Hernandez in Washington