Nation & World

Trump says he aborted retaliatory strike to spare Iranian lives

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump listens to questions during a meeting with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump listens to questions during a meeting with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he aborted a military strike on Iran because he said it could have killed 150 people, a disproportionate response to Tehran’s downing of an unmanned U.S. surveillance drone.

Trump said the plan was to hit three sites in response to the drone’s downing on Thursday, which Tehran said took place over its territory and which Washington said occurred in international airspace over the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

The drone incident aggravated fears of a direct military clash between the longtime foes and oil prices rose more than 1%to above $65 per barrel on Friday due to worries about possible disruptions to crude exports from the Gulf.

In a sign that the United States is also open to diplomacy, Iranian sources told Reuters Trump had warned them that a U.S. attack on Iran was imminent but had said he was against war and wanted talks. Washington also requested a closed-door U.N. Security Council meeting on Monday.

In a series of early morning tweets, Trump said he was in no hurry to launch a strike and that U.S. economic sanctions designed to force Iran to curb its nuclear and missile programs and its involvement in regional wars were having an effect.

He also said the United States imposed additional sanctions against Iran on Thursday night following the destruction of the Global Hawk drone by an Iranian surface-to-air missile, but it was not immediately clear what those penalties may have been.

“Ten minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. I am in no hurry, our military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world,” Trump tweeted.

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White House national security adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and CIA Director Gina Haspel, along with the rest of Trump’s team, favored a retaliatory strike, said a senior Trump administration official.

“There was complete unanimity among the president’s advisers and DOD (Department of Defense) leadership on an appropriate response to Iran’s activities. The president made the final decision,” said the official.

TRUMP MESSAGE TO IRAN

Iran’s destruction of the drone was the latest in an escalating series of incidents in the Gulf region, a critical artery for global oil supplies, since mid-May, including explosive strikes on six oil tankers.

Earlier on Friday, Iranian officials told Reuters that Tehran had received a message from Trump warning that a U.S. attack on Iran was imminent but saying that he was against war and wanted talks on a range of issues.

News of that message, delivered through Oman overnight, came shortly after the New York Times reported that Trump had called off airstrikes targeting Iranian radar and missile batteries at the last minute.

“In his message, Trump said he was against any war with Iran and wanted to talk to Tehran about various issues,” one of the officials told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“He gave a short period of time to get our response but Iran’s immediate response was that it is up to Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei to decide about this issue.”

A second Iranian official said: “We made it clear that the leader is against any talks, but the message will be conveyed to him to make a decision.

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“However, we told the Omani official that any attack against Iran will have regional and international consequences.”

Khamenei has the last say on all state matters and has ruled out any talks with Washington while Tehran is under sanctions.

Iran shot down the drone after weeks of festering tension amid a spate of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf region.

In his initial response on Thursday, Trump suggested he was not eager to escalate a standoff with Iran over its nuclear and ballistic missile activities and support for proxies in various Middle East conflicts.

He said the unmanned drone might have been shot down in error by someone who was acting “loose and stupid,” though added: “This country will not stand for it.”

SOME AIRLINES AVOID IRAN-CONTROLED AIRSPACE

Russia accused the United States of deliberately stoking dangerous tensions around Iran and pushing the situation to the brink of war, and urged all sides to show restraint.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called on Washington to weigh the possible consequences of conflict and said the Times report showed the situation was extremely dangerous.

Trump on Friday spoke with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about “Saudi Arabia’s critical role in ensuring stability in the Middle East and in the global oil market,” the White House said.

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The most recent cycle of tension was sparked by Trump’s decision in May to tighten U.S. economic sanctions to try to eliminate Iran’s oil exports.

That move followed his 2018 decision to unilaterally abandon the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers under which Tehran curbed its atomic program in return for sanctions relief. Iran this week threatened to breach one of the deal’s key limits by June 27, which could aggravate tensions further.

The sanctions have hurt Iran’s economy, squeezed its vital oil exports and barred it from the dollar-dominated global finance system, dimming hopes for a trade bonanza for Tehran for having curbed its nuclear capabilities under U.N. monitoring.

Some global airlines rerouted flights to avoid Iran-controlled airspace over the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration barred American carriers from the region.

(Additional reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva, Jamie Freed in Singapore, David Shepardson in Washington and Tom Westbrook in Sydney, Tom Balmforth in Moscow, David Alexander, Roberta Rampton, Phil Stewart in Washington, Sabine Siebold in Brussels and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Mark Heinrich and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Bill Rigby and Alistair Bell)

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