Washington (AFP) - President Donald Trump said Wednesday he does not want a war with Iran but warned that if fighting does break out, it "wouldn't last very long," even as Iran's president tried to tamp down soaring tensions.
Trump also hinted that any conflict would be waged with air strikes, saying there would be no US boots on the ground.
His remarks came after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tried to rein in the crisis between the two archfoes, saying that Iran "never seeks war" with the United States.
Washington has ratcheted up crippling economic sanctions on Tehran after the Islamic republic's forces shot down an unmanned US drone in the Gulf region, following a series of attacks on tankers that Washington blamed on Iran.
Trump says he called off an air strike against Iranian targets at the last minute last week, having decided the expected death toll of 100 would have been a disproportionate response.
In an interview on Fox Business Network, Trump was asked if America is going to go to war with Iran.
"Well, I hope we don't but we're in a very strong position if something should happen. We're in a very strong position," Trump said, a day after he warned that any further military action by Iran would result in an "overwhelming" US response and could result in "obliteration."
"It wouldn't last very long, I can tell you that. And I'm not talking boots on the ground,"
Talking later with reporters outside the White House, Trump said Iran's leaders would be "selfish and ... stupid" to reject cutting a new deal with his administration to replace the 2015 nuclear accord made under his predecessor Barack Obama, which Trump himself walked out of.
That step is widely seen as the genesis of steadily declining relations between the two countries over the past year.
"They have a country that's in economic distress. It's an economic disaster right now, they can solve it quickly or in 10 years from now," he said. "I have all the time in the world. In the meantime, they have very strong sanctions."
In the current crisis with Iran, Trump's tone has vacillated between tough and conciliatory -- talking up US military might and saying all options are on the table, or offering Tehran talks on renegotiating a multi-party nuclear deal.
- 'Decades of turmoil' -
Iran has responded by saying it will "resolutely" abandon more commitments under the nuclear deal with world powers on July 7.
But Iran's own stance also has been mixed: while the country's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed his country would remain unbowed by US "insults," Rouhani adopted a more conciliatory approach.
"Iran has no interest to increase tension in the region and it never seeks war with any country, including (the) US," the president said, quoted by state news agency IRNA.
The high-stakes showdown in the Gulf between the longtime rivals has triggered a flurry of diplomatic activity as world leaders scramble to prevent a war that would massively disrupt oil flows and shake the global economy.
Rouhani spoke earlier by phone with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron and told him Iran has "always been committed to regional peace and stability and will make efforts in this respect."
Iran's ambassador to the UN, Majid Takht Ravanchi, told the Security Council Wednesday that Tehran alone cannot save the nuclear deal.
"Iran alone cannot, shall not and will not take all of the burdens anymore to preserve the JCPOA," he said, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as the deal is formally known.
Iran has said that as of June 27, it will have more than the 300 kilos (660 pounds) of enriched uranium that it was allowed to have under the deal, the result of 12 years of tough diplomatic negotiations.
Iraqi President Barham Saleh added his voice to the warnings against a fresh regional conflict that would have serious repercussions for his own war-torn country.
"We have had four decades of challenge and turmoil. We do not want to be embroiled in another war," he said. "We cannot afford our country to be dragged into conflict."