Jan 8, 2020

Trump responds to missile strikes: "Iran appears to be standing down"

President Trump said in a White House address Wednesday that Americans should be "extremely grateful and happy" because Iranian strikes hours earlier resulted in no casualties, and Iran now "appears to be standing down."

Why it matters: Iran's strikes came in retaliation for the killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, a stunning event that led to immediate fears of war. Trump defended that decision and announced new sanctions on Iran, but did not signal new military escalation.

What he's saying:

  • "As long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. Good morning. I’m pleased to inform you, the American people should be extremely grateful and happy. No Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime."
  • "Our great American forces are prepared for anything. Iran appears to be standing down."
  • "No American or Iraqi lives were lost because of the precautions taken, the dispersal of forces, and an early warning system that worked very well."
  • "The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it."

Trump was flanked by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and several members of the military top brass.

Details: Trump called on the signatories to the 2015 nuclear pact — the U.K., Germany, France, Russia and China — to "break away from the remnants of the Iran deal."

"We must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place."
  • Trump said his "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran would remain in place until Iran's behavior changes, though he called for cooperation against ISIS and other issues where interests overlap.
  • He blamed the current standoff with Iran on the Obama administration, and boasted about American military strength while adding, "we do not want to use it."
  • Trump also said NATO should increase its involvement in the Middle East.

Catch up quick: Overnight, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) fired 15 ballistic missiles from Iran at two Iraqi bases — Al Asad and Irbil — that house U.S. troops.

  • Iran has framed this for its domestic audience as a massive blow, including with images of supreme leader Ali Khamenei personally directing the attack.
  • But the Iraqi government and NATO have confirmed that none of their troops were killed or injured. Iraq also received advanced warning from Tehran.
  • The message from Iran to the U.S., carried over state media and in a tweet from Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, has been that more will follow — but only if the U.S. retaliates.
  • Attacking the U.S. directly, and not through its proxies, was an extremely dangerous move for Iran, particularly after Trump drew a bright red line around any attacks that harm Americans or U.S. interests.

What to watch: Even if the military escalation pauses here, further action is likely through Iranian proxies, in the cyber realm, or over Iran’s nuclear program as it moves further outside the constraints of the 2015 deal.

Go deeper:

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Trump says "all is well" after Iranian strikes on bases hosting U.S. troops

Iranian mourners carry a picture of Khamenei (R) and Soleimani. Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump tweeted Tuesday night "all is well" following the Iranian strikes on two Iraqi bases where U.S. troops are stationed.

Why it matters: This is the closest the current U.S.-Iran standoff has come to war, with Iran retaliating directly against the U.S. for the killing of Gen. Qasem Soleimani. However, there were no immediate reports of casualties at the bases, and Trump has appeared to signal restraint.

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Signs of respite with Iran despite Trump's red line

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

After Iran's launch of more than a dozen ballistic missiles last night at U.S. forces in Iraq, an initial search found zero American casualties, U.S. officials said.

Why it matters: Experts see that aftermath as a best-case scenario for de-escalation despite the fact that President Trump drew the brightest red line of his presidency when he tweeted a warning Saturday to Iran about hitting "American assets."

Go deeperArrowJan 8, 2020

Iran's proxies in the Middle East

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Behrouz Mehri/Getty Staff, Anadolu Agency/Getty Contributor, Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Contributor

Iran has built up a vast network of proxies through which it wields influence across the Middle East, and which could take action to stoke tensions between the U.S. and Iran over the killing of Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

Why it matters: The political parties and militias that are influenced by and act on behalf of Iran likely pose a more direct threat to U.S. targets than Iran itself, the Washington Post writes.

Go deeperArrowJan 18, 2020 - World