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Trump explains why he called off Iran airstrikes at last minute: 'We were cocked & loaded to retaliate'

US president claims he ended operation because likely loss of life was 'not proportionate' to downing of US drone

Tom Embury-Dennis
Friday 21 June 2019 15:10 BST
Donald Trump tight lipped on response to Iran

Donald Trump has sought to explain why he abandoned plans to launch airstrikes on Iran, claiming US forces were "cocked and loaded to retaliate".

In a series of tweets on Friday morning, the US president claimed he called off the operation over a fear the likely loss of life would be "not proportionate" to the downing of a US drone in the Strait of Hormuz.

"On Monday they shot down an unmanned drone flying in International Waters," Mr Trump incorrectly said. The drone was shot down on Thursday.

"We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights (sic) when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General.

"10 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.

"Sanctions are biting & more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!"

Mr Trump's outburst came after The New York Times reported he initially approved strikes against Tehran on Thursday, before backing down as planes were in the air.

Iranian officials said Tehran had received a message from Mr Trump warning a US attack on Iran was imminent but saying he was against war and wanted talks on a range of issues.

“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) Khamenei to decide about this issue," one official told Reuters.

Another said: "We made it clear that the leader is against any talks, but the message will be conveyed to him to make a decision."

Mr Trump prefaced his explanation on Twitter by repeating his claim the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran – negotiated by the Obama administration – was a "terrible deal" and that the Islamic Republic was now "bust".

"President Obama made a desperate and terrible deal with Iran - Gave them 150 Billion Dollars plus I.8 Billion Dollars in CASH!," Mr Trump tweeted. "Iran was in big trouble and he bailed them out.

"Gave them a free path to Nuclear Weapons, and SOON. Instead of saying thank you, Iran yelled Death to America. I terminated deal, which was not even ratified by Congress, and imposed strong sanctions.

"They are a much weakened nation today than at the beginning of my Presidency, when they were causing major problems throughout the Middle East. Now they are Bust!"

Iran military releases footage of 'missile strike on US drone'

In fact, the 2015 deal prevented Iran from building nuclear weapons until at least 2030, and Mr Trump's suggestion Iran is no longer causing "major problems" appears to contradict claims by his government the country was responsible for attacking two commercial oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

The circumstances of the shooting down of the drone, a US navy RQ-4A Global Hawk, by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, are disputed.

Iran said the drone, with a wingspan larger than a Boeing 737 and costing more than over $100m (£79m), had violated its territorial airspace.

The US said the "unprovoked attack” happened in international airspace, but failed to provide compelling evidence for the claim. Either way, it marked the first time Iran had struck the US military, which released a set of coordinates it claimed the drone was shot down at.

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter that the aircraft had taken off from the United Arab Emirates “in stealth mode & violated Iranian airspace”.

A Revolutionary Guards statement said the drone’s identification transponder had been switched off “in violation of aviation rules and was moving in full secrecy” when it was downed, Reuters quoted the Iranian state broadcaster IRIB as saying.

Additional reporting by agencies

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