Trump: ‘I am in no hurry’
President still hopes for talks with Iranian leaders
President Donald Trump said Friday he abruptly called off the swiftly planned military strikes on Iran because the likely deaths of 150 Iranians would have been so out of proportion to the shootdown of an unmanned American surveillance drone.
He also indicated he still hopes for talks with Iranian leaders rather than any escalation of military conflict.
“I am in no hurry,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that increasingly severe sanctions meant to push Iran to the nuclear negotiating table are “biting” the Iranian economy.
The aborted attack was a stark reminder of the potential for the escalating tensions of the past year between the U.S. and Iran to lead to full-scale conflict, even as the president repeatedly insists he does not want war and wants to negotiate with the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program.
Iran on Friday showed no public inclination to negotiate, and it was unclear whether Trump, who said the U.S. military had been “cocked and loaded” to hit Iran, was considering new military options.
After Iran downed a huge Navy surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz, Trump alternately denounced it as a “big mistake” and dismissed it as a “fly in the ointment.”
Iran insisted the U.S. drone violated Iranian airspace; Washington said it had been flying over international waters when it was hit by an Iranian missile. Iran said it recovered debris in its waters.
The U.S. military said Friday that although debris from the destroyed drone was spread across a wide area, none had yet been recovered by American forces, who were encountering high winds and heavy seas.
In a television interview, Trump said the U.S. was within 10 minutes of conducting strikes against Iran on Thursday when he canceled the operation. He told NBC News that he never gave a final order – planes were not yet in the air but would have been “pretty soon.”
He said military officials came to him about 30 minutes before the strikes were to be launched and asked him for his final approval. Before signing off, he said he asked how many Iranians would be killed and was told approximately 150.
“I thought about it for a second and I said, ‘You know what? They shot down an unmanned drone, plane – whatever you want to call it – and here we are sitting with 150 dead people. That would have taken place probably within a half an hour after I said go ahead. And I didn’t like it. I didn’t think it was proportionate.”
Trump’s assertion that he learned only at the last minute of his military advisers’ casualty estimate does not align with the usual way a president is briefed on military attack options. An assessment of the likelihood of casualties, whether civilian or military, and a broad estimate of the number, normally are a major element of each option provided to the commander in chief.
Iran addressed the subject of casualties, too. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace division, said Friday that a U.S. spy plane with around 35 crew members was flying close to the unmanned U.S. Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk that was shot down, but that Iran chose not to target the manned aircraft. He said Iran warned the drone several times before downing it with a missile.
The president’s decision to call off the attack is a reminder that despite the escalation in tensions between Washington and Tehran in recent weeks, there is a realization that military action, once under way, can quickly lead to unintended consequences, including large-scale war.
Trump has said repeatedly he does not want war with Iran, but he has offered little insight to his strategy, beyond inviting Iran’s leaders to call him to reopen nuclear negotiations.
His administration last year pulled out of the 2015 international agreement intended to curb the Iranian nuclear program, an agreement he strongly criticized as ineffective during his campaign.
He demanded negotiations for a new agreement, but there have been none.