The U.S. plans to announce more sanctions against Iran, but President Donald Trump is also willing to negotiate with Iranian leaders with "no preconditions" to ensure the Islamic Republic never acquires a nuclear weapon.
The president's comments were echoed by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, who on Sunday referenced a "significant set of new sanctions" to come on Monday as he prepared to visit Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for talks to rally "a global coalition to push back against Iran."
Some 80 percent of the Iranian economy is already sanctioned, and the new ones will be a further effort to ensure that Tehran's ability to grow its economy "becomes more and more difficult," Pompeo told reporters. "The world will know that the U.S. campaign to deny Iran resources for its nuclear program and terror will continue."
The sanctions, which Trump foreshadowed on Saturday with no additional detail, come days after the president abruptly called off a plan for air strikes after Iran shot down an unmanned U.S. Navy drone. The administration also blames Iran for recent attacks on two oil tankers near the Persian Gulf, as the nation already faces crippling sanctions.
“We are putting major additional Sanctions on Iran on Monday,” Trump said on Twitter. “I look forward to the day that Sanctions come off Iran, and they become a productive and prosperous nation again — The sooner the better!”
At the same time, Trump said an interview that aired Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he thinks Iranian leaders want to negotiate and he's willing to talk with no preconditions except that outcome must be Iran acquiring no nuclear weapons. Trump said the proposed discussions have "nothing to do with oil."
"Here it is. Look, you can't have nuclear weapons," Trump said on NBC. "And if you want to talk about it, good. Otherwise you can live in a shattered economy for a long time to come."
While Trump said he thinks Iran wants to make a deal, Iranian leaders earlier this month rebuffed a similar offer by Pompeo, saying the suggestion amounted to "word play" given the Trump administration's other actions toward the Islamic Republic, including pulling out of a multilateral nuclear deal.
Vice President Mike Pence said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that he's not aware of any outreach by Iran since Trump called off the attack. The president made the decision after he was given more specific projections about likely casualties, and because he had doubts that the drone attack was authorized at the highest levels in Iran, Pence said.
In doing so, Trump brushed off the views of some of his more hawkish advisers and lawmakers such as Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who said on "Fox News Sunday" that a retaliatory strike would have been warranted.
"The president is clearly trying to navigate a fine line to show that you cannot attack Americans and American military equipment without having a response," Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said Sunday on ABC's "This Week." "At the same time, he's very conscious of not getting on an escalatory ladder that leads to a military conflict that neither side wants."
Echoing comments that National Security Adviser John Bolton made this weekend in Jerusalem, Pence said on CNN that "Iran should not mistake restraint for lack of resolve'' and "all options remain on the table'' as Iran steps up its attacks.
"Iran's economy is literally crumbling,'' Pence said. "We've isolated them economically and diplomatically, and they've lashed out.''
If the administration's goal is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, it's puzzling why Trump would pull out of the deal negotiated by former President Barack Obama — while pursuing a "maximum pressure" campaign that only backs the Islamic Republic into a corner and causes it to lash out, said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
"Even though we knew they were going to do it, we didn't know how to respond, and it's not getting them to the negotiating table," Smith said on CBS. "They're not there.''
Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, told reporters Sunday in Kuwait that while lots of nations have offered to help diplomatically, there's currently no back channel operating. Sanctions are punishment for an "outlaw regime" and have succeeded in weakening Iranian proxy groups around the region, he said.
Still, Smith said there's no clear policy being articulated by the administration, with Bolton and other hawks backing military action and the president clearly conflicted about the correct response to Iran's provocations.
Regarding some of his more hawkish advisers, Trump said that having people on both sides of the debate is important, but "the only one that matters is me."
"We'll see with Iran," Trump said Saturday. "Everyone was saying I'm a warmonger and now they're saying I'm a dove." Instead, Trump offered, he is "a man with common sense."
Echoing the types of comments he's made about North Korea, Trump said he hoped he could "make Iran great again" over time. "Iran right now is an economic mess," he said.
Separately, Trump last week ordered a cyber attack against Iranian targets, The Washington Post reported. The cyber strikes against Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were carried out by U.S. Cyber Command in coordination with U.S. Central Command, the newspaper said.
On Sunday the U.S., U.K., Saudi Arabia and the UAE released a joint statement of concern over Iran's activities, including an attack this month on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman that's been blamed on Tehran, and called for diplomatic solutions to de-escalate tensions.
Bloomberg’s Ros Krasny, Margaret Talev, Fiona MacDonald, Ivan Levingston, Henry Meyer, Zainab Fattah, Filipe Pacheco, Jonathan Tirone, Ben Brody, Hailey Waller and Zaid Sabah contributed to this report.