WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump said on Friday he aborted a military strike on Iran because it could have killed 150 people, a disproportionate response to Tehran’s downing of an unmanned US surveillance drone.
President 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 raised about $1 per barrel to above $65.50 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 said, Trump had warned them that a US attack was imminent, but saying that he was against war and wanted talks on a range of issues.
In a series of early morning tweets, Donald Trump said he was in no hurry to launch a strike and that US economic sanctions designed to force Tehran to curb its nuclear and missile programmers 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 economic 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.
White House national security adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompano and CIA Director Gina Hasped, along with the rest of Trump’s team, favoured a retaliatory strike, said a senior Trump administration official.
“There was complete unanimity amongst the president’s advisers and defense department leadership on an appropriate response to Iran’s activities. The president made the final decision,” said the official.
Trump’s message to Iran
Earlier on Friday, Iranian officials said Tehran had received a message from Trump warning that a US 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 air strikes 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 said.
“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) Khomeini 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.
“However, we told the Omani official that any attack against Iran will have regional and international consequences.”
Khomeini 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 amidst a spate of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf region.
In his initial response on Thursday, Trump said he was not eager to escalate a standoff over Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activities and support for proxies in various Middle East conflicts.