Trump on war with Iran: 'I hope not'

President TrumpDonald John TrumpHR McMaster says president's policy to withdraw troops from Afghanistan is 'unwise' Cast of 'Parks and Rec' reunite for virtual town hall to address Wisconsin voters Biden says Trump should step down over coronavirus response MORE said Thursday he hopes the U.S. does not go to war with Iran amid concerns in Washington that his administration may be preparing for military action.

“I hope not,” Trump said at the White House when asked about the prospects of an armed conflict with Tehran before his meeting with Swiss President Ueli Maurer, whose country acts as the protecting power for the U.S. in Iran.

The president’s terse response comes amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran that raised speculation about the possibility of war.

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Trump on Tuesday denied a report that his team is crafting a plan to send 120,000 troops to the Middle East, but said he would “absolutely” send them if he must, underscoring the White House’s mixed messages on the alleged threat.

Lawmakers in both parties have grown frustrated with the White House’s claims of a growing military threat posed by Iran in the Middle East and have urged Trump not to escalate tensions in the region, while demanding to see the underlying intelligence fueling U.S. warnings.

“The responsibility in the Constitution is for Congress to declare war,” Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMcConnell focuses on confirming judicial nominees with COVID-19 talks stalled Overnight Defense: Top admiral says 'no condition' where US should conduct nuclear test 'at this time' | Intelligence chief says Congress will get some in-person election security briefings Pelosi must go — the House is in dire need of new leadership MORE (D-Calif.) said at a press conference on Capitol Hill. “So I hope that the president’s advisers recognize that they have no authorization to go forward in any way.”

Administration officials said there would be an all-senators briefing on Iran next Tuesday after some Senate Republicans complained about being left in the dark.

“I don’t think it’s fair for us to walk around wondering,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Campaign Report: Arizona shifts towards Biden | Biden prepares for drive-in town hall | New Biden ad targets Latino voters Senate Democrats' campaign arm announces seven-figure investment to boost Graham challenger Graham: Comey to testify about FBI's Russia probe, Mueller declined invitation MORE (R-S.C.), a Trump supporter who is also an outspoken voice on foreign policy, said on Wednesday.

The Trump administration over the past few weeks has deployed an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf, as well as a Patriot missile defense battery and a bomber task force, and ordered diplomatic staff to leave the U.S. Embassy in Iraq over fears that Iran may be preparing to carry out attacks on Americans.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that overhead photographs showed missiles being loaded onto small boats in the Persian Gulf used by Iranian paramilitary forces, fueling concerns within the administration Iran might target American vessels or cargo ships. 

But the White House’s response has been marred by reports of internal disagreement about how aggressively the U.S. should posture against Iran.

Trump has reportedly expressed frustration with some of his hawkish advisers, namely national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonDiplomacy with China is good for America The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep DOJ launches probe into Bolton book for possible classified information disclosures MORE, who have pushed for a confrontation with Iran. He has complained privately that Bolton and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoHillicon Valley: FBI chief says Russia is trying to interfere in election to undermine Biden | Treasury Dept. sanctions Iranian government-backed hackers Treasury Dept. sanctions Iranian government-backed hackers The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep MORE are rushing him into a military confrontation that could break his campaign promise not to entangle the U.S. in foreign wars, according to The Washington Post.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that Trump told acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanHouse Armed Services chairman expresses confidence in Esper amid aircraft carrier coronavirus crisis Boeing pleads for bailout under weight of coronavirus, 737 fallout Esper's chief of staff to depart at end of January MORE explicitly that he does not want to go to war with Iran.

But on Wednesday, Trump denied there is any “infighting” about his “strong policy in the Middle East” while raising the possibility of direct negotiations with Iranian leaders.

“Different opinions are expressed and I make a decisive and final decision — it is a very simple process,” Trump tweeted. “All sides, views, and policies are covered. I’m sure that Iran will want to talk soon.”

White House press secretary Sarah HuckabeeSarah Elizabeth SandersSarah Sanders on Trump's reported war dead criticism: 'Those comments didn't happen' Sarah Sanders memoir reportedly says Trump joked she should hook up with Kim Jong Un McEnany stamps her brand on White House press operation MORE Sanders said earlier Thursday that Trump “was pretty clear in what his feeling was yesterday that there isn't division in the White House.”

“Again, there's only one agenda here and it's the president's,” she told reporters.

Tensions between the two countries flared last year after Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Obama-era nuclear deal with Tehran. The Trump administration has also moved to reimpose sanctions that were lifted on the agreement and impose new penalties on Iran’s oil sector and banking system.

—Updated at 2:34 p.m.