Trump on war with Iran: 'I hope not'

President TrumpDonald John TrumpRouhani says Iran will never seek nuclear weapons Trump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions Trump says Bloomberg is 'wasting his money' on 2020 campaign 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 PelosiOvernight Health Care: Justices won't fast-track ObamaCare case before election | New virus spreads from China to US | Collins challenger picks up Planned Parenthood endorsement Why Senate Republicans should eagerly call witnesses to testify Trump health chief: 'Not a need' for ObamaCare replacement plan right now 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 GrahamSenator-jurors who may not be impartial? Remove them for cause Broad, bipartisan rebuke for proposal to pull troops from Africa What to watch for as Senate organizes impeachment on day one 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 BoltonThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Trump says impeachment lawyers were 'really good' Senate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial MORE, who have pushed for a confrontation with Iran. He has complained privately that Bolton and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions GOP rejects effort to compel documents on delayed Ukraine aid 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 ShanahanEsper's chief of staff to depart at end of January Defense chief calls on European allies to be wary of China's investments, blasts Russia Pentagon chief approves 20 more miles of border wall 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 says she 'can't think of anything dumber than' having Congress run foreign policy Rapid turnover shapes Trump's government God did not elect Trump, people did 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.