Washington: The U.S. and Iran stepped back from the brink of possible war Wednesday as President Donald Trump signaled he would not retaliate militarily for Iran's missile strikes on Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops. No one was harmed in the strikes, but U.S. forces in the region remained on high alert.
Speaking from the White House, Trump seemed intent on deescalating the crisis, which spiralled after he authorized the assassination of Iran's top general, Qassem Soleimani. Iran responded overnight by firing more than a dozen missiles at two installations in Iraq, its most direct assault on America since the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
Trump's takeaway was that “Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.”
The region remained on edge, however, and American troops including a quick-reaction force dispatched over the weekend were on high alert. Hours after Trump spoke, an ‘incoming’ siren went off in Baghdad's Green Zone after what seemed to be small rockets “impacted” the diplomatic area, a Western official said. There were no reports of casualties.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the overnight 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.”
The strikes had pushed Tehran and Washington perilously close to all-out conflict and left the world waiting to see whether the American president would respond with more military force. Trump, in his nine-minute, televised address, spoke of a robust U.S. military with missiles that are “big, powerful, accurate, lethal and fast.'' But then he added: “We do not want to use it."
Iran for days had been promising to respond forcefully to Soleimani's killing, but its limited strike on two bases--one in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil and the other at Ain al-Asad in western Iraq--appeared to signal that it too was uninterested in a wider clash with the U.S. Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that the country had “concluded proportionate measures in self-defence.”
Trump said the U.S. was “ready to embrace peace with all who seek it.” That marked a sharp change in tone from his warning a day earlier that “if Iran does anything that they shouldn't be doing, they're going to be suffering the consequences, and very strongly.”
Trump opened his remarks at the White House by reiterating his promise that “Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.” Iran had announced in the wake of Soleimani's killing that it would no longer comply with any of the limits on uranium enrichment in the 2015 nuclear deal crafted to keep it from building a nuclear device.
The president, who had earlier pulled the U.S. out of the deal, seized on the moment of calm to call for negotiations toward a new agreement that would do more to limit Iran's ballistic missile programmes and constrain regional proxy campaigns like those led by Soleimani.
Trump spoke of new sanctions on Iran, but it was not immediately clear what those would be....