Sat, 20 Jul 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump says he will impose more sanctions against Iran in an effort to prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, adding that military action was still a possibility.

Trump, who was speaking to reporters at the White House on June 22, made his comments a day after revealing that he came within minutes of executing military strikes against Iran in retaliation for the shooting down of a U.S. Navy drone.

Tehran has warned the United States of serious consequences for the entire Middle East if Washington moves aggressively against Iran amid escalating tensions between the two countries.

'We are putting additional sanctions on Iran,' Trump said. 'In some cases we are going slowly, but in other cases we are moving rapidly.'

Trump added: 'We're not going to have Iran have a nuclear weapon. When they agree to that, they're going to have a wealthy country. They're going to be so happy, and I'm going to be their best friend. I hope that happens.'

Trump spoke to reporters as he prepared to leave for the presidential retreat Camp David, where he said he would be deliberating on Iran.

Tensions between Tehran and Washington have spiked since an Iranian missile destroyed a U.S. Global Hawk surveillance drone on June 20.

Iran has said the drone was shot down over its territory while Washington said it occurred in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz.

The senior spokesman of Iran's armed forces, Abolfazl Shekarchi, told Tasnim news agency, which is linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), on June 22 that any act of aggression against the country will draw a "historic response."

"A military mistake from the enemy, particularly from the U.S. and its regional allies, will be tantamount to firing at a powder keg on which sit the U.S. and its interests, and it will set the region ablaze," he said.

Earlier on June 22, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi was quoted praising the downing of the drone and saying the Islamic republic would never allow its territorial integrity to be violated.

"We are ready to counter any threats against the [territorial] integrity of the Islamic Republic of Iran," he said, according to Tasnim. "Our decisions do not hinge on their decisions and we will counter any aggression whether it mingles with threats or not.'

According to the semiofficial Fars news agency, Iran's Foreign Ministry on June 22 summoned a diplomatic representative of the United Arab Emirates because the U.A.E. allowed the drone that was shot down to be launched from a U.S. military base on its territory.

In a series of tweets on June 21, and then later in the day in an interview with NBC television, Trump said the United States came within 10 minutes of launching retaliatory military strikes before calling off the move because the casualty count could have run into triple digits.

'We were cocked & loaded to retaliate,' he said.

The nearly executed attack was the closest the United States has come to a direct military strike on Iran in the year since last year when the administration pulled out of a 2015 accord with Tehran and other world powers that was intended to curb the Middle Eastern country's nuclear program. Iran claims the program is only for civilian purposes.

The United States also has blamed Tehran for a series of recent attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz -- including two tankers that were attacked in the Gulf of Oman on June 13.

The U.S. envoy on Iran, Brian Hook, said on June 21 that it is 'important we do everything' to de-escalate tensions with Iran.

General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the IRGC's aviation division, told Iranian state TV that Iran refrained from shooting down a U.S. Navy Boeing P-8 Poseidon plane with 35 people on board that he said was accompanying the downed drone.

Britain's Foreign Office said on June 22 that Middle East Minister Andrew Murrison will visit Tehran on June 23 for 'frank and constructive' talks, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the conflict would most likely be at the top of the agenda at next week's G20 summit in Osaka.

"A political solution should not just be a hope, it should be worked towards with the utmost seriousness,' she said on June 22 in Dortmund.

The United Arab Emirates' General Civil Aviation Authority said it had instructed airlines registered in the country to take necessary measures given current risks in the region.

Operators should 'evaluate the affected flying zones and...put in place the necessary measures to avoid operating in areas that may subject civil aviation operations to danger,' the authority said.

The announcement came after major international airlines -- including British Airways, Australia's Qantas, Dutch carrier KLM, Germany's Lufthansa, Emirates, Malaysian Airlines, and Singapore Airlines -- said a day earlier that they were suspending flights over the Strait of Hormuz.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the U.S. aviation authority, also has issued an emergency order banning U.S. carriers from flying in Iranian airspace over the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman.

According to a U.S. official who spoke to the AP, the military strikes halted by Trump were recommended by the Pentagon and were among the options presented to senior administration officials.

Officials said Trump had initially approved attacks on several Iranian targets, including radar and missile batteries, The New York Times reported.

That report said the strikes were to take place just before dawn on June 21 to minimize the risk to Iranian military personnel or to civilians.

With reporting by The New York Times, AP, AFP, dpa, Tasnim, and Reuters.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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