WEDNESDAY 1/8/20 11:44 a.m.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. and Iran stepped back from the brink of possible war Wednesday, as President Donald Trump indicated he would not respond militarily after no one was harmed in Iran’s missile strike on two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops.
Speaking from the White House, Trump seemed intent on deescalating the crisis, which reached a new height after he authorized the targeted killing last week of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force. Iran retaliated overnight with its most direct assault on America since the 1979 seizing of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, firing more than a dozen missiles from its territory at the U.S. installations.
Trump credited an early warning system “that worked very well” for the fact that no Americans or Iraqis were killed. He added that Americans should be “extremely grateful and happy” with the outcome.
Trump, facing one of the greatest tests of his presidency, said Wednesday that Iran appeared to be “standing down” and said the U.S. response would be to put in place new economic sanctions “until Iran changes its behavior.”
The strikes had pushed Tehran and Washington perilously close to all-out conflict and put the world’s attention on Trump as he weighed whether to respond with more military force. The Republican president delivered his remarks surrounded by his national security advisers in the foyer of the White House. It came after a late-night tweet in which he insisted “All is well!” after the strikes.
Iran, for days, had promised to respond forcefully to Soleimani’s killing, but its limited strike on two bases — one in the northern Iraqi city in Irbil and the other at Ain al-Asad in western Iraq — appeared to signal that it was also uninterested in a wider clash with the U.S. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that the country had “concluded proportionate measures in self-defense.”
Trump, who is facing reelection in November, campaigned for president on a promise to keep the United States from engaging in “endless war.”
Speaking Wednesday he said the United States is “ready to embrace peace with all who seek it.”
Trump opened his remarks by reiterating his promise that “Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon,” even as that country announced in the wake of Soleimani’s killing that it would no longer comply with any of the 2015 nuclear deal’s limits on enrichment that had been put in place to prevent it from building a nuclear device.
But he seized on the —at least temporary — moment of calm to call for new nuclear negotiations to replace the 2015 deal from which he withdrew the U.S., objecting that it didn’t limit Iran’s ballistic missile programs or constrain its regional proxy campaigns like those led by Soleimani.
The president spoke directly to Iran, saying, “We want you to have a future and a great future.”
Trump also announced he would ask NATO to become “much more involved in the Middle East process.” While he has frequently criticized NATO as obsolete and has encouraged participants to increase their military spending, Trump has sought to have the military alliance refocus its efforts on modern threats.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin in a joint statement after a closed-door meeting on Mideast security had warned that the further use of force “would lead to a new cycle of instability and would eventually damage everyone’s interests.”
However, in the hours before the missile strikes, Trump warned the longtime U.S. foe, “If Iran does anything that they shouldn’t be doing, they’re going to be suffering the consequences, and very strongly.”
And Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speaking on Wednesday, said the strike was not necessarily the totality of Iran’s response.
“Last night they received a slap,” Khamenei said. “These military actions are not sufficient (for revenge). What is important is that the corrupt presence of America in this region comes to an end.”
Soleimani’s death last week in an American drone strike in Baghdad prompted angry calls for vengeance and drew massive crowds of Iranians to the streets to mourn him. Khamenei himself wept at the funeral in a sign of his bond with the commander.
The Iranians fired a total of 15 missiles in the latest strikes, two U.S. officials said. Ten hit the Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq’s western Anbar province and one targeted a base in Irbil in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Four failed, said the officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly about a military operation.
According to a U.S. official, early warning systems detected the missile launches and alarms sounded, giving personnel at the bases time to get to shelter. Officials also said that the U.S. was closely watching the region and communicating with allies, and was aware of preparations for the attack. It’s unclear if any intelligence identified specific targets or was more general in the potential strike locations.
Two Iraqi security officials said a missile appeared to have struck a plane at Ain al-Asad, igniting a fire. There were no immediate reports of casualties from the attacks, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they had no permission to talk to journalists.
Ain al-Asad was first used by American forces after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, and it later was used by American troops in the fight against the Islamic State group. It houses about 1,500 U.S. and coalition forces. Trump visited it in December 2018, making his first presidential visit to troops in the region. Vice President Mike Pence visited both Ain al-Asad and Irbil in November.
Democrats called on Trump avoid military escalation with Iran.
Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the administration needs to quickly “extricate us from what could lead into a full-fledged war with terrible casualties.” Engel said he feared the situation ”spirals out of control.”
The fallout for Trump’s order to kill Soleimani had been swift.
Iraq’s Parliament voted to expel U.S. troops from Iraq, which would undermine efforts to fight Islamic State militants in the region and would strengthen Iran’s influence in the Mideast.
The counterattack by Iran came as Trump and his top advisers were under pressure to disclose more details about the intelligence that led to the American strike that killed Soleimani.
Top Senate Democrats, citing “deep concern” about the lack of information coming from the Trump administration about the Iran operation, called on Defense Department officials to provide “regular briefings and documents” to Congress.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the senators said in a letter Wednesday that the White House’s classified War Powers notification to Congress was “generic, vague, and entirely inconsistent in its level of detail” compared with the norm.
They also registered their “grave concern” with Trump’s comments on targeting Iranian cultural sites and asked for clarification. Members of Congress were to be briefed on the strike Wednesday afternoon in closed-door sessions on Capitol Hill.
Trump and top national security officials have justified the airstrike with general statements about the threat posed by Soleimani, who commanded proxy forces outside Iran and was responsible for the deaths of American troops in Iraq.
But the details have been scarce.
Soleimani was targeted while he was at an airport in Baghdad with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a veteran Iraqi militant, who also was killed.
Trump insists ‘All is well!’ after Iran missile attack, speaks on situation
TUESDAY 1/7/20 8:25 p.m.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump insisted “All is well!” on Tuesday after Iran fired surface-to-surface missiles at two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops. He promised to make a statement to the nation Wednesday morning about the increasingly precarious situation with Iran.
Trump offered no immediate indication of whether he would retaliate, and stayed out of sight Tuesday night as news of the missile strikes emerged.
But he tweeted that an assessment of casualties and damages was under way. The initial outlook, he said, was “So far, so good!”
The Iranian missiles came in retaliation for an American drone strike that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Trump and his advisers are under pressure to disclose more details about the intelligence that led to the U.S. strike.
Trump said Tuesday that his decision saved American lives and that members of Congress will get a briefing on the reasons for the U.S. attack.
“They were planning something,” he said of the Iranians.
Hours later, Iran struck back, firing the missiles at bases housing U.S. troops and warning the United States and its allies in the region not to retaliate. The White House said the president was monitoring the situation closely and consulting with his national security team.
So far, Trump and top national security officials have justified the airstrike with general statements about the threat posted by Soleimani, who commanded proxy forces outside Iran and was responsible for the deaths of American troops in Iraq.
But the details have been scarce.
“He’s no longer a monster. He’s dead,” Trump said. “And that’s a good thing for a lot of countries. He was planning a very big attack and a very bad attack for us and other people and we stopped him and I don’t think anybody can complain about it.”
Soleimani was targeted while he was at an airport in Baghdad with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a veteran Iraqi militant who also was killed.
Trump said they weren’t in Baghdad to discuss vacation plans or visit a “’nice resort,” but were there to talk over “’bad business.”’
The lack of detail doesn’t sit well with Democrats, who recall how President George W. Bush justified his invasion of Iraq by accusing Saddam Hussein of having non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Lawmakers in recent days have been pressing for more detail to explain why Trump ordered the killing — a decision that previous administrations passed up because of fears it would unleash even more violence.
Soleimani traveled frequently and relatively openly, with visits to Baghdad more frequent in recent months. He also often showed up in Syria, including along the border between Iraq and Syria.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have called on Trump to declassify the written notification he sent to Congress after the strike. The notification was required under the War Powers Resolution Act of 1973, which requires the president to report to Congress when American forces are sent into hostile situations.
“’The president must come to Congress and present clear and compelling intelligence as to why the strike against Soleimani was absolutely necessary,” Menendez said in a speech on the Senate floor. “In the wake of all its misleading statements we must make clear to the administration that the president by himself does not have the authority to launch a war against Iran.”
Trump stressed that the strike was in retaliation for Iranian attacks and that the U.S. is prepared to attack again — “’very strongly.” He also said that while he eventually wants to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, now is not the time because it would allow Iran to gain a bigger foothold there.
Trump’s top national security officials made several public appearances on Tuesday to further defend the strike.
“We had deep intelligence indicating there was active plotting to put American lives at risk,” and Iraqi lives too, said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Asked if the threat was imminent in days or weeks, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said: “I think it’s more fair to say days, for sure.”
Esper said the intelligence was precise — “razor thin.” He said top Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate plus the chairmen and vice chairmen of the intelligence committees in both chambers were getting a classified briefing Tuesday afternoon on what led to the decision to kill Soleimani. He said other lawmakers will be provided general details about the attack.
He said Soleimani was in Baghdad to coordinate additional attacks against the U.S. “To somehow suggest that he wasn’t a legitimate target, I think, is fanciful,” Esper said.
Democratic lawmakers are not yet convinced it was the right decision.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called the U.S. strike on Soleimani a mistake and said “I have yet to see how killing this man will prevent Iran from posing an even greater threat against the United States and our interests.”
In the wake of the killing, Iran has announced that it will no longer be bound by the 2015 nuclear agreement and vowed to retaliate against the U.S., its allies and American interests. Iraq’s parliament also voted to expel U.S. troops from Iraq, which would undermine efforts to fight Islamic State militants in the region and strengthen Iran’s influence in the Mideast.