U.S. officials said they are increasingly confident Iran and its Mideast allies are looking to avoid a head-on fight with America, the newspaper said.
Senior U.S. officials are urging Trump to keep imposing economic sanctions and wait to see if European leaders move to reimpose United Nations sanctions on Iran, it added.
Some of those who backed the decision to assassinate Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3 argue that continuing to squeeze Iran could weaken the government, officials involved in the discussions reportedly said.
Trump administration officials say they aren’t seeking regime change, just a dramatic shift in Tehran’s approach to military and foreign affairs.
"The combination of maximum economic pressure and restoring deterrence by credible threat of military force, if attacked, is going to do more to advance peace and stability in the region than a policy of accommodation with the regime,” said Brian Hook, who oversees Trump administration policy toward Iran at the State Department.
Other administration officials, including some who harbored misgivings about the assassination of Gen. Soleimani, believe that direct, back-channel talks between Tehran and Washington would be a more effective way to avert open conflict, the paper said, noting that those officials appeared to be in the minority.
"It seems that everyone is standing down,” a senior U.S. administration official told the Journal. "The question now is what can we do to advance the president’s agenda?”
According to the paper, U.S. allies in the Middle East are recalibrating policies, with the occupying regime of Israel urging continued U.S. military pressure against Iran’s allies in the region and Arab states in the Persian Gulf urging the U.S. to de-escalate the military confrontation with Iran.
Twice this month, U.S. officials said, Trump has talked by phone with Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the emir of Qatar with close ties to Tehran. Sheikh Tamim offered to serve as a mediator between Washington and Tehran in hopes of averting a dangerous conflict, current and former U.S. officials briefed on the calls said.
But many Trump administration officials are skeptical that Qatar’s mediation efforts would be more successful than those of France, Japan, Oman or Pakistan, all of which failed to secure a diplomatic breakthrough, the paper said.
Saudi Arabia also sent its vice defense minister, Prince Khaled bin Salman, to Washington, where he urged Trump to look for ways to avoid a regional war, the Journal reported.
Saudi officials were reportedly concerned that Houthi fighters in Yemen might step up their attacks on the neighboring kingdom, which has reduced cross-border attacks and laid the groundwork for a potential peace deal.
Those fears were realized over the weekend when Houthi forces launched a missile strike that killed more than 110 Saudi mercenaries.
While Qatar and other Arab nations are trying to defuse tensions, the occupying regime of Israel appears to be resuming its airstrikes in Syria.
According to the Journal, much of the U.S. focus following the assassination in Baghdad has been on containing the damage in Iraq, where lawmakers pushed through a measure calling for America to withdraw all its troops.
Meanwhile, the New York Times castigated the "wrong track for confronting Iran”. It reminded that after the assassination, Iran would not be satisfied until America leaves the Middle East.
The paper said while Trump chose to look to Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf emirates to sustain the old order in order to counter Iran, "those monarchies need ties to the larger Arab states, which are now in disarray”.
According to the Times, Iran’s signing of a nuclear deal and recent protests in the country "may have convinced Washington that the Islamic Republic is teetering, and that more pressure could topple it”.
"But the Iranian state is not as weak as Washington estimates,” the paper said.
The U.S. assassination of General Soleimani has only strengthened the Islamic Republic and the enormous crowds that gathered to mourn the general give it a mandate and confidence in the country’s ability to take on the United States, it added.
"President Trump has not fully grasped that Iran’s position in the region is stronger today than it was when the United States began to contain” the country, the New York Times wrote in an opinion piece by Vali Nasr.
Iran, it said, has deep cultural ties to the region’s Shia Muslims, who look to Tehran for support as they reach for power in the new regional order.
"In another development, President Trump in 2018 squandered America’s triumph in containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions when he pulled the United States out of the multination nuclear pact signed with Iran in 2015,” the paper said.
"Now, Iran is returning to its nuclear program, and it has also been investing heavily in missiles, drones and cyber capabilities. Recently, Iran’s downing of an American drone and attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia have been clearly intended to signal to America that Iran still has arrows in its quiver,” it added.
The U.S. assassination of General Soleimani, the NY Times said, has helped Iran regain its footing in the region and focused public ire on American behavior.
"America’s decision to kill General Soleimani in Iraq has already given Iran an opening, as seen in the Iraqi Parliament’s outrage that America chose to settle a score with Iran on Iraqi soil,” the paper said.
"Looking forward, here’s what we can expect from Iran: It now sees America as a threat greater than any degree of regional chaos,” it added.
According to the paper, President Barack Obama understood that it was wiser to reduce tensions with Iran than to try to fight it in a broken Arab world.
"If a conflict escalates out of control, it could mean another endless war, this time with a country of 80 million people, incensed and united,” it said.
"President Trump and his allies may see his brinkmanship as a victory, but it will prove to be a Pyrrhic one. For any strategy that will last, Mr. Trump must look beyond ‘confront and contain,’ lest he embroil America in a new quagmire in the Middle East,” the newspaper wrote.