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Trump Says He’s Inclined to Keep a Base and Troops in Iraq to ‘Watch’ Iran

February 3, 2019, 3:21 PM UTC

President Donald Trump said he’s inclined to leave a base and troops in Iraq to “watch” Iran even as he dials down U.S. military presence in the region, and that he doesn’t believe his intelligence chiefs who say Iran is abiding by the nuclear deal that the U.S. exited.

“I disagree with them,” Trump said in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that will air on Sunday, adding that the intelligence community was wrong about former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction ahead of the second Gulf War.

“Guess what? Those intel people didn’t know what the hell they were doing, and they got us tied up in a war that we should have never been in,” Trump said. “And we’ve spent seven trillion dollars in the Middle East and we have lost lives.”

The interview touched on everything from U.S.-Venezuela policy to whether the president would let his young son play football. It was conducted on Friday, a few days before the president makes the annual State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday night.

Trump said his administration is “doing very well” on making a trade deal with China ahead of a fast-approaching March 1 deadline for escalating tariffs, and he didn’t rule out another government shutdown or other action to get funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Budget Talks

Congress faces a mid-month deadline to come up with an agreement on border security spending to prevent a potential second government shutdown on the heels of the longest such closing in history.

Trump in recent days has repeatedly declared the negotiations a waste of time. His speech on Tuesday is likely to reveal more of his plans, including the politically and legally fraught option of making an emergency declaration to circumvent Congress to continue building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I don’t take anything off the table. I don’t like to take things off the table,” he said in the CBS interview.

Trump faces an array of foreign policy challenges, including time-sensitive trade talks with China, planning a second summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, the terms of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria, and efforts to pressure Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro out of office.

Military ‘Option’

Asked what would make him use the U.S. military in Venezuela, Trump said he didn’t want to say that “but certainly it’s something that’s on the — it’s an option,” according to the transcript.

The president said the date of his next summit with Kim is set would be announced shortly. Bloomberg has reported that the meeting is likely to be held in Vietnam this month.

“Certainly I think we have a very good chance of making a deal,” with North Korea, he said. “And one of the reasons is because North Korea has a chance being located between Russia, China, and South Korea. What a location — I’m in the real estate business — what a location. They have a chance to be an economic powerhouse.”

Asked about the number of “acting” Cabinet ministers and aides now in place, including attorney general and the secretaries of Defense and Interior, Trump said “it’s easier to make moves when they’re acting.”

Trump also said he doesn’t think Secretary of State Michael Pompeo plans to leave his administration to run for the Senate from Kansas, as has been rumored recently. “He tells me he wouldn’t want to leave,” he said. “I asked him the question the other day, he says he’s absolutely not leaving. I don’t think he’d do that.”