Jun 21, 2019

How Trump and Tehran came to the brink of war

Trump displays a presidential memorandum on the Iran deal withdrawal. Photo: Xinhua/Ting Shen via Getty Images

President Trump confirmed Friday that the U.S. was "cocked & loaded" to strike Iran last night, a move that could have accelerated the path to war.

How we got here: The strike had been ordered in response to Iran's shooting down of a U.S. drone earlier this week, but the trend toward conflict began in earnest last year when the president announced that the U.S. would pull out of the internationally negotiated Iran nuclear deal.

Leaving the deal

May 8, 2018: Trump announces that the U.S. will pull out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

  • That kicks off a "maximum pressure" campaign intended, at least officially, to yield a new, far more comprehensive deal. New rounds of sanctions are implemented in August, November and — most recently — April.
  • Iran initially continues to comply with the deal, and the European signatories work desperately to save it.
Bolton's warning

May 5: National Security Adviser John Bolton issues a statement referring to impending Iranian attacks and announces a U.S. aircraft carrier is en route to the region.

  • May 8: On the anniversary of Trump’s withdrawal, Iran announces it will increase uranium production.
  • May 9: Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presents plans for 120,000 U.S. troops to be deployed to the Middle East in the event of an Iranian attack, per the New York Times.
  • May 10: The U.S. sends additional military hardware, including a warship, to the Middle East.
First tanker attacks

May 12: Four oil tankers — two Saudi, one Emirati, one Norwegian — are attacked near the Strait of Hormuz. The U.S. later accuses Iran.

  • May 14: Armed drones strike two Saudi pumping stations. Houthi rebels operating in Yemen claim responsibility.
  • May 15: The U.S. orders a partial evacuation of its embassy in Baghdad, Iraq.
New escalations

June 13: With Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tehran and diplomacy apparently on the table, two more tankers — one Norwegian and one Japanese — are struck near the Strait of Hormuz.

  • June 17: Iran announces that it will breach uranium enrichment levels under the 2015 deal in 10 days.
  • June 17: The U.S. announces it will send an additional 1,000 troops to the Middle East.
The drone attack

June 20: Iran shoots down a U.S. drone it says was in its airspace. The U.S. provides evidence it was over international waters.

  • June 20: Trump approves strikes "on a handful of Iranian targets" but calls them off at the last minute, the NYT reports.
  • June 21: Iranian officials tell Reuters they received a message from Trump warning of impending U.S. attacks and seeking dialogue as Trump confirms he felt the planned strikes were "not proportionate."

Go deeper: Israeli officials say Iran won’t de-escalate without stronger U.S. response

Go deeper

Biden says he's starting VP search this month

Joe Biden. Photo: Scott Olson / Staff

Joe Biden said he's spoken to Sen. Bernie Sanders and former President Barack Obama about selecting a running mate — and that he wants to build "a bench of younger, really qualified people" who can lead the nation over the course of the next four presidential cycles.

Driving the news: Biden spoke about the state of the 2020 race during a virtual fundraiser on Friday night that was opened to pooled coverage.

Trump ousting intelligence community inspector general

Michael Atkinson, inspector general of the intelligence community. Photo: Bill Clark / Getty Images

President Trump notified key lawmakers on Friday that he’s firing Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community's inspector general, who first alerted Congress last September of an "urgent" complaint from an official involving Trump's correspondence with the Ukrainian president.

Why it matters: The move, to take effect in 30 days, comes amid a broader initiative to purge the administration of officials seen as disloyal to the president.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Axios Visuals

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 1,097,909 — Total deaths: 59,131 — Total recoveries: 226,106Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 277,828 — Total deaths: 7,406 — Total recoveries: 9,772Map.
  3. Public health latest: The CDC is recommending Americans wear face coverings in public to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. The federal government will cover the costs of COVID-19 treatment for the uninsured, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.
  4. 2020 latest: "I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting," President Trump said of the 2020 election, as more states hold primary elections by mail. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Friday that every county in the state opted to expand mail-in voting for the state's June 2 primary.
  5. Business updates: America's small business bailout is off to a bad start. The DOT is urging airlines to refund passengers due to canceled or rescheduled flights, but won't take action against airlines that provide vouchers or credits.
  6. Oil latest: The amount of gas American drivers are consuming dropped to levels not seen in more than 25 years, government data shows. Trump is calling on the Energy Department to find more places to store oil.
  7. Tech updates: Twitter will allow ads containing references to the coronavirus under certain use cases.
  8. U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt: Senators call for independent investigation into firing of Navy captain.
  9. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.