WASHINGTON -- President Trump, who says he made an 11th-hour decision last week to call off a retaliatory military strike against Iran, declared in an interview aired Sunday that war would mean "obliteration" for the Islamic republic. But he also said he was open to talks without preconditions with Tehran.
In a wide-ranging interview with NBC's "Meet the Press," Trump also said he did not want to be impeached, but believed that if proceedings were opened in the House, it would help him politically in 2020.
And he said he "may" warn Russian President Vladimir Putin against interfering in the U.S. election when the two leaders meet this week on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Japan.
Additionally, the president brushed aside questions about inhumane treatment of children detained at the border, and ducked a query about a new United Nations report urging closer scrutiny of the role of Saudi Arabia's crown prince in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The confrontation with Iran, which has slowly ratcheted up since Trump pulled the United States out of a landmark nuclear accord last year, has spiked in recent days over Iran's downing of a U.S. surveillance drone and amid threats to oil shipping in strategic waters in and near the Gulf of Oman.
Fueling confusion among U.S. allies, Trump has appeared to alternately heed and dismiss the advice of hawkish advisors like John Bolton, the national security advisor.
In the NBC interview, Trump said he did not want an armed confrontation with Iran, telling interviewer Chuck Todd, "I'm not looking for war." But he added that "if there is, it'll be obliteration like you've never seen before."
At the same time, the president signaled openness to a larger negotiated settlement with Tehran, which has railed angrily against U.S. sanctions it says are strangling the country economically. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday repeated accusations that the United States is the aggressor in a series of tense incidents in and near the Gulf of Oman.
Trump, in the interview, ruled out allowing Iran to possess nuclear weapons, but added he would set no pre-arranged parameters on any talks with its leaders. No direct contacts have been disclosed, or such plans announced.
"Not as far as I'm concerned – no preconditions," the president said. At another point, he said: "I think they want to make a deal. And my deal is nuclear."