CAIRO: Donald Trump on Thursday urged Iran's leadership to sit down and talk with him about giving up Tehran's nuclear program and said he could not rule out a military confrontation given the heightened tensions between the two countries.
The US President was speaking hours after Egypt confirmed the American aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln passed through the Suez Canal. The US strike group is heading towards the Gulf amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran.
At an impromptu news conference at the White House, Trump declined to say what prompted him to deploy the force to the region over what was described as unspecified threats.
“We have information that you don't want to know about,” said Trump. “They were very threatening and we have to have great security for this country and many other places.”
Trump was asked whether there was a risk of military confrontation with the American military presence in the area.
“I guess you could say that always, right? I don't want to say no, but hopefully that won't happen. We have one of the most powerful ships in the world that is loaded up and we don't want to do anything,” he said.
Trump has expressed a willingness to meet Iranian leaders in the past to no avail and renewed that appeal in talking to reporters.
“What they should be doing is calling me up, sitting down. We can make a deal, a fair deal, we just don't want them to have nuclear weapons - not too much to ask. And we would help put them back to great shape.”
He added: “They should call. If they do, we're open to talk to them.”
Trump's national security advisor John Bolton on Sunday announced the deployment of the aircraft strike group and bomber task force in a “clear and unmistakable” message to Iran that it would respond to any attack on the US or its allies.
To reach the Gulf, the carrier must pass through the Suez Canal which connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.
General Ralph Groover, the US defence attache in Cairo, commended Egyptian authorities for ensuring the vessel's “complete safety” during its passage, according to a statement from the canal's Port Authority.
In his announcement Sunday, Bolton stopped short of saying Washington planned to enter into a direct conflict with Tehran.
But the deployment comes amid increasing rhetoric following Washington's withdrawal last year from the multi-party 2015 deal over Iran's nuclear programme.
In recent weeks, Trump's administration has re-imposed stringent sanctions on Iran and blacklisted the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist group.
In response, Tehran said it would stop abiding by parts of the nuclear agreement.
Iran on Monday dismissed the naval deployment as "old news", saying Iranian forces had seen the vessel enter the Mediterranean three weeks earlier.
The USS Abraham Lincoln has been deployed to the Gulf on previous occasions, including during the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.