WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said he will keep the U.S. military in Iraq, in order to keep a close eye on Iran, which is a "real problem," according to a CBS interview that will broadcast on Sunday.
Trump's decision to draw down military forces in the Middle East has been met with fierce criticism, and helped prompt the departure of James Mattis as Defense Secretary. But in an interview with CBS, the president suggested the U.S. would at least maintain a presence to keep an eye on Tehran.
"I want to be able to watch Iran ... all I want to do is be able to watch," Trump told CBS' "Face the Nation" adding that he was not planning a military strike on Iran.
"This is what a lot of people don't understand. We're going to keep watching and we're going to keep seeing and if there's trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we're going to know it before they do," he added.
Trump then explained that since the United States has spent a "fortune" on the Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq, which he made a surprise visit to in December, the U.S. will hold on to it.
"We have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It's perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East rather than pulling up," he said.
In wake of a number of public differences he's had with intelligence officials regarding their assessments of threats to the U.S., Trump said he trusted them--but wouldn't always agree with what they said.
"I have intel people, but that doesn't mean I have to agree," Trump said during the CBS interview. "I am going to trust the intelligence ... but I will say this: my intelligence people, if they said in fact that Iran is a wonderful kindergarten, I disagree with them 100 percent. It is a vicious country that kills many people," he added.
His comments came on the heels of criticisms he made last week regarding assessments the nation's top intelligence chiefs gave to lawmakers.
During a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, the heads of various intelligence branches testified about the looming threats facing the United States. When asked about Iran's nuclear program, CIA director Gina Haspel said that "technically they're in compliance" — a finding that contradicts Trump's claims.
A day after the hearing, Trump said that the intelligence agencies should "go back to school, saying on Twitter they were wrong.
During his interview with CBS, Trump called Iran "the number one terrorist nation in the world" and blamed Tehran for manufacturing violence in the Middle East.
"So when my intelligence people tell me how wonderful Iran is- if you don't mind, I'm going to just go by my own counsel," he said.