US President Donald Trump today avoided referencing an earlier warning that the US would retaliate with military force “if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets” as he announced Iran was “standing down”.
But the apparent change in tone from both parties didn’t go unnoticed, with the restrained Mr Trump not following through on his threat made just days ago.
“We have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD,” Mr Trump tweeted on Saturday.
“The USA wants no more threats!”
Monday Trump : “If Iran retaliates, America will strike 52 Iranian sites disproportionately. There will be destruction like no one’s ever seen before!”
— Tea Pain (@TeaPainUSA) January 8, 2020
Iran didn’t appear to heed the warnings when it struck back at the US yesterday for killing its most powerful military commander, firing a barrage of ballistic missiles at two Iraqi military bases that house American troops in what the Iranian supreme leader said was a “slap” against the US military presence in the region.
Mr Trump today responded to the incident in an address to the nation from Washington, DC.
“The American people should be extremely grateful and happy,” Mr Trump said, noting that no Americans or Iraqis had been killed in the strikes.
“Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties and a good thing for the world.”
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said after the missile strikes that Iran had “concluded proportionate measures” in retribution for Qasem Suleimani’s death.
Speaking during a cabinet meeting today, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said that “if America commits a crime, no matter how much she threatens us, she must know that we will act decisively as we have already shown”.
He added that “from now on if America wants to commit another crime, must know that they will receive a stronger reaction.”
He also said the US needs to stop blaming Iran for the world’s problems.
“If they (the US) find that they have a problem anywhere in the world, do not say it was ordered by Iran,” Mr Rouhani said.
“If tomorrow something in another country happens, Americans would say this is the action of proxy forces of Iran. We do not have any proxy forces. From the beginning, Americans had it wrong. The people of the region are aware, free and act on their own. They are not under our control or order.”
The United Nations expressed relief over Mr Trump’s speech and comments by Iranian officials.
“We take note of the statement made by President Trump,” UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters.
Mr Dujarric said the UN welcomed any indication that “leaders are walking back from major confrontation”.
“It is our common duty to make every effort to avoid a war in the Gulf that the world cannot afford,” Mr Dujarric said in a statement.
“We must not forget the terrible human suffering caused by war. As always, ordinary people pay the highest price.”
General Soleimani fought heroically against ISIS, Al Nusrah, Al Qaeda et al. If it weren’t for his war on terror, European capitals would be in great danger now.
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) January 8, 2020
Mr Trump’s move to de-escalate the situation was presaged by comments made by two Republican senators.
“In my view, retaliation for the sake of retaliation is not necessary at this time,” tweeted South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham just hours before Mr Trump’s address.
“What is necessary is to lay out our strategic objectives regarding Iran in a simple and firm fashion.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told reporters just before Mr Trump spoke that he had talked to the President on Tuesday night. “I’m grateful for his patience and prudence as he and his Cabinet deliberate how to respond appropriately to the latest Iranian provocation,” Mr McConnell said. “
“As a superpower, we have the capacity to exercise restraint and to respond at a time and place of our choosing, if need be.”
Several Democrats rejected the notion that the latest developments in the Iran crisis amounted to a validation of Mr Trump’s strategy.
“If you ratchet up conflict, then de-escalate, I don’t necessarily think the strategy is a good one — it’s a risky one,” Senator Bob Menendez, ranking Democrat on Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said.
Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, said the US was “fundamentally worse off today than we were just a month ago”.
“Iran has fully restarted their nuclear weapons program,” Mr Murphy said.
“Our troops are on the verge of being kicked out of Iraq. We’ve turned the Iranian people, the Iraqi people, the Lebanese people against us. Our counter-ISIL missions have been suspended. This has been a disaster. And I’m glad that we may be on a path towards de-escalation, but the carnage of just the last several days is perhaps irreparable.”
World leaders have condemned the Iranian missile strikes, which targeted the sprawling Ain al-Asad air base in western Iraq and a base in Arbil, both housing American and other foreign troops deployed as part of a US-led coalition fighting the remnants of the Islamic State group.
Iraq’s President Barham Salih said he wants the region spared from military conflict and to avoid plunging the country into a new war, according to a statement released by his office today.
According to the statement, the president “condemns the Iranian missile strikes that have hit military sites on Iraqi soil, and renews its rejection of the repeated breach of its national sovereignty and turning Iraq into a battleground for the conflicting parties”.
But according to the New York Times, analysts have cautioned that even if the two sides ease off a military clash in the short term, the conflict could very well play out in other ways in the weeks and months to come. Iran has many proxy groups in the Middle East that could stir trouble in new ways for American troops or American allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia, and experts remained wary of a possible Iranian cyberstrike on domestic facilities, the newspaper reports.
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