“I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons,” he told Fox News host Steve Hilton in an interview on Sunday. His comments reaffirmed the administration’s resolve in suppressing Iranian nuclear proliferation even as it faced provocations from the regime and threats to U.S. assets in the Middle East.
Trump, during the interview, continued opposing military intervention — something that separated him from others in the 2016 campaign — but indicated Iranian nuclear development would constitute an urgent exception.
“I don’t want to fight. But you do have situations like Iran, you can’t let them have nuclear weapons — you just can’t let that happen,” he said.
While speaking with Hilton, he recounted the costs of war which he said he wanted to avoid.
“With all of everything that’s going on, and I’m not one that believes — you know, I’m not somebody that wants to go into war, because war hurts economies, war kills people most importantly — by far most importantly,” he said.
Trump has urged Iranians to come to the table even as they appeared to continue retaliating over higher sanctions — a devastating form of pressure that started with Trump’s decision to exit the Obama-era nuclear deal.
“I ended the Iran Nuclear Deal, and actually, I must tell you — I had no idea it was going to be as strong as it was. It totally — the country is devastated from the standpoint of the economy,” he told Hilton.
While the president stood by that decision, he faced renewed criticism from Democrats over that 2018 exit. Many of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have pledged to re-enter the deal.
One of those was Mayor Pete Buttigieg who, on Thursday, reportedly leveled some harsh criticism of the president’s Iran strategy. Trump caught headlines for appearing to toy with Buttigieg’s name — pronouncing it as “boot edge edge.”
He did the same during his interview with Hilton but seemed to support Buttigieg’s relationship with his same-sex partner and defend his relatively ambitious plan to run for president from a mayoral seat.
“You know, it’s sort of interesting because he’s running for the president of the United States as a mayor. But you could say that I ran for president of the United States, and I was never in politics before, right? But I had a good life, and I had a successful life,” he said.
Trump wasn’t so diplomatic towards frontrunner and former Vice President Joe Biden. Biden, whose administration crafted the deal, derided Trump in 2018 for erasing “years” of progress with Iran. He will likely make Iran an even bigger issue as the 2020 elections neared.
But Trump had his own arguments to raise over Biden’s approach to foreign nations — in particular, on China. Biden provoked criticism when, amid Trump’s heightened rhetoric surrounding the nation, he downplayed its competitive threat.
“He says China’s not a competitor of ours,” Trump said of Biden. “China is a massive competitor of ours. They want to take over the world. OK? They have China 2020 — you know they have 2025,” he added.
Later in his comments, he indicated that Biden saw China differently due to his family’s controversial connections with the nation’s government. “But with Biden, he says they’re not a competitor. Then they take a lot of money from China,” he said after agreeing that those connections should be investigated.
Biden has criticized Trump’s approach to trade with China, which he indicated would hurt the U.S. economy. Trump, during his interview, defended the tariffs — claiming “China’s totally getting killed” — and suggested the economy was a boon to his electoral prospects.
“I have tremendous poll numbers now. You see that. I mean my poll numbers are great because the economy is so good. And I actually do a lot about the economy. I don’t get credit for that, you know,” he said.