U.S. President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that the United States would be imposing “additional punishing sanctions” on Iran but made no mention of possible retaliation to Tuesday’s missile attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq.
Trump said Iran appeared to be “standing down” after missile strikes on bases housing U.S troops in Iraq that resulted in no American or Iraqi deaths.
“All of our soldiers are safe and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases,” he said in an address to the nation from the White House.
“Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world. No American or Iraqi lives were lost.”
Iran’s actions were seen by experts as a measured first response to the killing of General Qasem Soleimani in an American drone strike on Friday.
Analysts say the attack was conducted in a manner that would essentially ensure that there would be no American fatalities and that Tehran had offered Trump an “off-ramp” to prevent an all-out war.
If there are no US casualties and this is the extent of Iranian retaliation, then the US does not need to escalate. Iran can fire the missiles. Killing Soleimani was a far bigger blow.
— Faysal Itani (@faysalitani) January 7, 2020
Iraq’s prime minister’s office said Wednesday it had received “an official verbal message” from Iran informing it that a missile attack on U.S. forces stationed on Iraqi soil was imminent.
Such a warning would certainly have been relayed to U.S. officials, experts say. American bases in Iraq were on high alert in anticipation of an Iranian strike, and the U.S. likely was able to detect the incoming missiles with ample time for troops to get safely into cover.
UN: Iraq Shouldn’t ‘Pay the Price’ for Tensions
Despite Iran’s warning, Iraq’s foreign ministry said Wednesday it would summon Iran’s ambassador, calling the strike a “violation of Iraqi sovereignty.”
“We will not allow Iraq to be an arena of conflict, a corridor to carry out attacks or a base to hurt neighboring countries,” the ministry said.
President Trump: “No Americans were harmed in last night's attack… We suffered no casualties. All of our soldiers are safe and only minimal damage was sustained… Our great American forces are prepared for anything. Iran appears to be standing down…” https://t.co/fiz0R8KlLr pic.twitter.com/KmVZxZWCwt
— CNN (@CNN) January 8, 2020
The ministry earlier summoned the U.S. ambassador over the American drone strike last week that killed Soleimani, and Iraq’s parliament subsequently voted to expel U.S. forces from the country.
U.S. officials say they have no plans of yet to respect the parliament’s non-binding proclamation and withdraw troops from the country, and Trump threatened to sanction the country if the U.S. forces are formally asked to leave.
The United Nations mission in Iraq said Wednesday the country should not be made to “pay the price” in the escalating conflict between Tehran and Washington.
While Trump promised to impose new sanctions on Iran, analysts say there is little more Washington can do in that regard after it has pursued a “maximum pressure campaign” against Tehran during Trump’s presidency.
“There’s not much left to sanction,” Andrey Baklitskiy, a fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said on Twitter following Trump’s remarks.
Trump reiterated his stance Wednesday that he would not “allow” Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon while he is president.
President Trump: "As long as I am President of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon."
— CSPAN (@cspan) January 8, 2020
In the wake of Soleimani’s assassination, Iran announced that it would no longer abide by any restrictions on its nuclear energy program that it agreed to in the landmark 2015 nuclear deal.
Iranian leaders have insisted, however, that they have no intention of pursuing a nuclear weapon.
The United States unilaterally withdrew from the deal early in Trump’s presidency and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran.
On Wednesday, Trump called for the other countries that remain in the agreement – The U.K, France, Germany, and Russia – to abandon the accord as well.
But those countries have all consistently expressed their continued support for the deal, even as it has teetered under the pressure of U.S-Iran tensions.
While Trump’s speech Wednesday was packed with stern rhetoric toward Iranian leaders, he ended his remarks by calling for peace.
The president also suggested that the U.S. would be willing to cooperate with Iran in future efforts to destroy the remnants of ISIS in the region.
“ISIS is a natural enemy of Iran,” Trump said. “The destruction of ISIS is good for Iran. We should work together on this and other shared priorities.”
It’s unclear how Iran will respond to Trump’s suggestion, particularly after the U.S. killed Soleimani, who headed Iran’s fight against the terrorist organization.
But Barbra Slavin, Director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, suggested Trump’s statement could be an “olive branch” that could potentially defuse tensions between the two powers.
U.S. Presence in the Middle East
Though a major war seems to have been averted for the time being, some analysts cautioned Wednesday that the risk of conflict remains and that tensions could rise again in the coming weeks and months.
“Unless real diplomacy begins, the risk for confrontation will not dissipate for real,” Trita Parsi, an analyst with the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, said Wednesday.
While Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Twitter that Iran had “concluded” its response to the Soleimani killing, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said, “Our final answer to his assassination will be to kick all U.S. forces out of the region.”
Video: Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s first public appearance following the death of his colleague Qasem Soleimani in a U.S. airstrike (with English subtitles). pic.twitter.com/Q7Ibb2FQbR
— Evan Kohlmann (@IntelTweet) January 8, 2020
Rouhani’s statement mirrored comments from Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah, who called for the U.S. to be expelled from the region following the killing of Iran’s top general.
While leaders in Washington have long considered a military presence in the Middle East to be vital to American security interests, Trump’s comments on Wednesday suggested that he may be open to a broader step back from commitments in the region.
As a candidate for president, Trump called for the U.S. to “get out” of Iraq and Afghanistan, where U.S. forces have been engaged for well over a decade.
This week, the Trump administration “mistakenly” sent a letter to Iraqi leaders notifying them that the U.S. intended to withdraw all of its troops from the country.
During his remarks Wednesday, Trump said that the U.S. has “achieved energy independence” and that new “options in the Middle East” have become available because Washington’s “strategic interests” have changed.
“We do not need Middle East oil,” the president said.
In the speech, Trump also asked NATO to become “much more involved in the Middle East project.”
Reporting and writing from AFP contributed to this article.
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