Trump pulls back approved military strikes against Iranian targets following destruction of US drone

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USS Samuel B. Roberts

By Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver

After warning that Iran’s decision to shoot down a U.S. surveillance drone was “a big mistake,” President Trump approved military strikes but pulled back late on Thursday after a day spent conferring with national security advisers and congressional leaders about a measured response, The New York Times reported.

Officials told the Times that the president initially approved strikes on a handful of Iranian targets, such as radar and missile batteries, before the action was called off around 7:30 p.m. without any weapons being fired.

The retaliation was set to take place before dawn in Iran to minimize risk of casualties, according to the Times. But military officials received word a short time later with planes in the air that the strike was off, at least temporarily, the Times added.

Trump warned Iran overnight that a U.S. attack was imminent by using Oman as an intermediary, Iranian officials told Reuters today. According to the account, Trump conveyed his opposition to any war with Iran and a preference to talk to Tehran, including an offer of a “short period of time” in which to receive Iran’s response. The official quoted by Reuters said Iran responded through Oman that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was “against any talks,” adding a warning that “any attack on Iran will have regional and international consequences.”

The Associated Press, The Washington Post, Bloomberg and ABC News were among news outlets that confirmed The New York Times account overnight, citing unnamed administration officials.

Trump’s reaction to Iran’s drone strike evolved as Thursday wore on. The president said “this country will not stand for it, that I can tell you,” but he also sounded a cautious note, suggesting that the destruction of the surveillance drone was different in his mind than a strike against U.S. pilots or armed forces.

United States Central Command said in a statement on Thursday that the drone was destroyed in “an unprovoked attack” in international airspace, reportedly by a surface-to-air missile. Iran insisted the drone was inside the country’s airspace when it was struck.

For more than a year, the Trump administration has applied maximum economic pressure on Tehran and recently warned publicly that Iran was plotting military attacks, and was to blame for this month’s strikes on two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz.

On Thursday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) emphasized the importance of an assertive rejoinder from Trump, arguing that if the president did not respond to what the senator said was a clear provocation, Trump risked being perceived as “all talk.”

Graham told reporters after a classified briefing in the Situation Room: “If they do anything else against an American asset and this president doesn’t respond like Ronald Reagan, that’s a signal to North Korea and the entire world we’re all talk.”

The senator referred to former President Reagan’s decision to order retaliatory strikes against Iranian targets during the 1987 “tanker war.”

“I’m confident that if there is a war with Iran, they lose,” Graham said. “I’m confident it would be very devastating to the region. It will not be pretty.”

Trump is scheduled at the end of next week to attend the Group of 20 economic summit in Osaka, Japan, where he planned to discuss trade and security issues with world leaders, including President Xi Jinping of China and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Hill: Putin warns that war between the United States and Iran would be “catastrophe.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) echoed Graham’s support for U.S. retaliation.

“I think it would be a mistake for the president and the United States not to respond in a proportional or appropriate way,” he said Thursday afternoon in the Capitol. “The best way to keep the peace and stop war is to demonstrate to an aggressor that their escalation is going to be met with equal and proportional response that will cost them something they care about.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said, “There should be a response. What the response should be, I don’t know. … Whatever action is taken, it needs to be widely supported and I believe it will be. I believe it will be, but it has to be timely and appropriate and they need to figure out what that would be.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he worried Trump could drag the United States into a war with Iran in the absence of thorough consideration and congressional approval.

“I told the president that these conflicts have a way of escalating,” he told reporters after a meeting at the White House. “The president may not intend to go to war here, but we’re worried that he and the administration may bumble into a war.”

The New Yorker: A tanker war in the Middle East — again?

CNN: Iran said on Thursday that the U.S. drone was a “blatant violation of international law,” calling on the international community to demand the United States end “its continued unlawful and destabilizing measure in the already volatile region of the Persian Gulf.”

The Associated Press: The Federal Aviation Administration barred U.S.-registered aircraft from flying over Iranian-administered airspace in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman following the shoot-down of the U.S. drone, which had a wingspan broader than a Boeing 737. British Airways, Dutch carrier KLM and Australia’s Qantas changed flight routes over the Strait of Hormuz to avoid tensions in the region.

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