The United States could work with its longtime rival Iran in a bid to end the escalating violence in Iraq, Obama administration officials said Monday.
Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. was willing to explore any option that could halt the recent military gains made by a Sunni militant group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
However, officials from the White House and the Defense and State Departments ruled out the idea that Washington would cooperate with Tehran on military action.
“We’re not interested in any effort to coordinate military activities with Iran,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters traveling aboard Air Force One.
Talks about the deteriorating security situation could take place this week in Vienna on the sidelines of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.
The suggestion of any possible cooperation between the decades-old foes, though, brought strong reactions from lawmakers.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said it would be the “height of folly” for the U.S. to work with Iran.
“The reality is, U.S. and Iranian interests and goals do not align in Iraq, and greater Iranian intervention would only make the situation dramatically worse,” he said in a statement.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) asked the president to provide detailed plans to Congress on how the U.S. will deal with the ongoing crisis, which has already seen major cities fall and the insurgents near Baghdad.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said the U.S. “lost an opportunity” to deal with the al-Qaeda inspired group before it began marching across Iraq.
“About four months ago, this began to unfold,” he said. “Right then, we had a target, we had the encampment, we should have hit it.”
The Defense Department continued to make plans that could be enacted if President Obama decides to carry out airstrikes in Iraq or to evacuate the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the USS Mesa Verde to the Persian Gulf. The vessel holds roughly 500 Marines and as many as twelve MV-22 Osprey helicopters, which can deploy rapidly in the case of an evacuation.
The Verde will meet up with the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier and two other ships Hagel ordered to the region over the weekend.
Placing the ships in the Gulf gives Obama “additional options to protect American citizens and interests in Iraq, should he choose to use them,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement.
President Obama is set to meet with his national security team at the White House on Monday night to weigh military options.
Amid the uproar over developments in Iraq, the Senate Armed Services Seapower subcommittee will receive a classified briefing Tuesday afternoon on the “major threats” facing the U.S. Navy.
Discussions likely will range from concerns over the service’s budget outlook to the administration’s “pivot to Asia” and tensions in the South China Sea.
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