WASHINGTON DC, USA – US President Donald Trump announced Friday, June 21, that he called off planned strikes on Iran because the expected death toll of 150 people would not have been a “proportionate” response to Tehran shooting down an American drone.
The downing of the drone – which Iran insists violated its airspace, a claim Washington denies – has seen tensions between the two countries spike further after a series of attacks on tankers the US has blamed on Tehran.
Under pressure to respond to the high-stakes incident near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, Trump said the US was “cocked & loaded to retaliate” on Thursday night, June 20, by hitting “3 different sites,” but that he scrapped the strikes just 10 minutes before they were carried out.
“I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General,” the president tweeted, saying he concluded it would not have been “proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.”
“I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go,” he wrote.
The US president had struck a combative tone in his initial public comments about Iran shooting down the Global Hawk surveillance aircraft.
“Iran made a very big mistake!” he tweeted, later adding at the White House: “This country will not stand for it, that I can tell you.”
But as the pre-dawn incident whipped up fears of open conflict between the United States and its declared foe Iran, Trump moved to dial back tensions.
“I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said.
Iran vowed Friday to defend its borders after downing the drone, with the commander of the aerospace arm of its elite Revolutionary Guards saying the aircraft was warned twice before it was fired on over the Gulf of Oman.
Iran said it had called in the Swiss ambassador, whose country has represented US interests since the severance of diplomatic relations in the aftermath of the Islamic revolution of 1979, to issue a formal protest.
But the US special representative on Iran, Brian Hook, said Tehran was “responsible for escalating tensions in the region” and accused it of rejecting diplomatic overtures to deescalate the situation.
“Iran needs to meet diplomacy with diplomacy, not military force,” Hook told reporters in Saudi Arabia.
Oil prices edged down slightly Friday following the previous day’s surge that saw prices soar more than 6%, while the price of gold – seen as a safe haven asset – struck near six-year highs.
Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi provided the ambassador with “indisputable” evidence the drone had violated Iranian airspace, the foreign ministry said.
Araghchi “reiterated that Iran does not seek a war and conflict in the Persian Gulf,” but warned: “The Islamic Republic of Iran would not hesitate for a moment to decisively defend its territory against any aggression.”
Iranian television later broadcast images of what it said was “debris” of the downed drone recovered from Iran’s territorial waters.
“The debris was floating. We recovered it from the sea inside our territorial waters,” a general said.
The US Federal Aviation Administration warned of danger to flights “demonstrated by the Iranian surface-to-air missile shoot-down of a US unmanned aircraft system,” and barred American civilian aircraft from the area “until further notice.”
Major non-US airlines including British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa and Qantas said they too were altering flight paths to avoid the sensitive Strait of Hormuz area.
The Pentagon says the Global Hawk drone – one of the most expensive pieces of equipment in the US arsenal, costing over $120 million apiece – was 34 kilometers (21 miles) from Iran when destroyed by a surface-to-air missile in an “unprovoked attack.”
It published a map showing the flight path of the drone, which indicated it travelled outside of Iranian waters and included a photograph showing its coordinates when it was downed.
Zarif provided different coordinates for the downing of the drone by a domestically-manufactured Khordad 3 air defense battery.
The shootdown came as Iran was already accused by Washington of carrying out attacks on tankers in the congested shipping lanes heading out of the Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz.
Tehran denies any involvement.
Trump has repeatedly said he does not favor war with Iran unless it is to stop the country getting a nuclear weapon – something Iranian leaders insist they are not pursuing.
But Trump critics say his policy of “maximum pressure” – including abandonment of an international deal to regulate Iran’s nuclear activities, crippling economic sanctions and deployment of extra troops to the region – make war ever more likely. – Rappler.com