U.S., Iran step back from cri­sis es­ca­la­tion

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Zeke Miller and Deb Riech­mann

WASH­ING­TON >> The U.S. and Iran stepped back from the brink of pos­si­ble war Wednesday, as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in­di­cated he would not re­spond mil­i­tar­ily af­ter no one was harmed in Iran’s mis­sile strike on two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops.

Speak­ing from the White House, Trump seemed in­tent on deesca­lat­ing the cri­sis, which reached a new height af­ter he au­tho­rized the tar­geted killing last week of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force. Iran re­tal­i­ated overnight with its most di­rect as­sault on Amer­ica since the 1979 seiz­ing of the U.S. Em­bassy in Tehran, fir­ing more than a dozen mis­siles from its ter­ri­tory at the in­stal­la­tions in Iraq.

Trump cred­ited an early warn­ing sys­tem “that worked very well” for the fact that no Amer­i­cans or Iraqis were killed. He added that Amer­i­cans should be “ex­tremely grate­ful and happy” with the out­come.

Trump, fac­ing one of the great­est tests of his pres­i­dency, said Wednesday that Iran ap­peared to be “stand­ing down” and said the U.S. re­sponse would be to put in place new eco­nomic sanc­tions “un­til Iran changes its be­hav­ior.”

The strikes had pushed Tehran and Wash

in­g­ton per­ilously close to all-out con­flict and put the world’s at­ten­tion on Trump as he weighed whether to re­spond with more mil­i­tary force. The Repub­li­can pres­i­dent de­liv­ered his re­marks sur­rounded by his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vis­ers in the foyer of the White House. It came af­ter a latenight tweet in which he in­sisted “All is well!” af­ter the strikes.

Iran, for days, had promised to re­spond force­fully to Soleimani’s killing, but its lim­ited strike on two bases — one in the north­ern Iraqi city in Ir­bil and the other at Ain al-Asad in western Iraq — ap­peared to sig­nal that it was also un­in­ter­ested in a wider clash with the U.S. For­eign Min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Javad Zarif tweeted that the coun­try had “con­cluded pro­por­tion­ate measures in self-de­fense.”

Trump, who is fac­ing re­elec­tion in Novem­ber, cam­paigned for pres­i­dent on a prom­ise to keep the United States from en­gag­ing in “end­less war.”

On Wednesday he said the United States is “ready to em­brace peace with all who seek it.” That marked a change in tone from his Tues­day warn­ing, “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 by reit­er­at­ing his prom­ise that “Iran will never be al­lowed to have a nu­clear weapon,” even as that coun­try an­nounced in the wake of Soleimani’s killing that it would no longer com­ply with any of the 2015 nu­clear agree­ment’s lim­its on en­rich­ment that had been put in place to pre­vent it from build­ing a nu­clear de­vice.

He seized on the mo­ment of calm to call for new ne­go­ti­a­tions to re­place the deal from which he with­drew the U.S., ob­ject­ing that it didn’t limit Iran’s bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­grams or con­strain its re­gional proxy cam­paigns like those led by Soleimani.

The pres­i­dent spoke di­rectly to Iran, say­ing, “We want you to have a fu­ture and a great fu­ture.”

Trump also an­nounced he would ask NATO to be­come “much more in­volved in the Mid­dle East process.” While he has fre­quently crit­i­cized NATO as ob­so­lete and has en­cour­aged par­tic­i­pants to in­crease their mil­i­tary spend­ing, Trump has sought to have the mil­i­tary al­liance re­fo­cus its ef­forts on mod­ern threats.

Like U.S. troops in the re­gion, NATO forces have tem­po­rar­ily halted their train­ing of Iraqi forces and their counter-Is­lamic State ef­forts, and re-po­si­tioned some forces due to the cur­rent in­sta­bil­ity.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, speak­ing on Wednesday, 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.”

Soleimani’s death last week in an Amer­i­can drone strike in Baghdad prompted an­gry calls for vengeance and drew mas­sive crowds of Ira­ni­ans to the streets to mourn him. Khamenei him­self wept at the fu­neral in a sign of his bond with the com­man­der.

The Ira­ni­ans fired a to­tal of 15 mis­siles in the lat­est strikes, two U.S. of­fi­cials said. Ten hit the Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq’s western An­bar prov­ince and one tar­geted a base in Ir­bil in Iraq’s semi-au­ton­o­mous Kur­dish re­gion. Four failed, said the of­fi­cials, who were not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly about a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to a U.S. of­fi­cial, early warn­ing sys­tems de­tected the mis­sile launches and alarms sounded, giv­ing per­son­nel at the bases time to get to shel­ter. Of­fi­cials also said that the U.S. was aware of prepa­ra­tions for the at­tack. It’s un­clear if any in­tel­li­gence iden­ti­fied spe­cific tar­gets or was more gen­eral.

Two Iraqi se­cu­rity of­fi­cials said a mis­sile ap­peared to have struck a plane at Ain al-Asad, ig­nit­ing a fire.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.