President Donald Trump delivers remarks on the growing tensions in the Middle East after Iran attacked U.S. military bases in Iraq as retaliation for killing General Qassem Soleimani.
President Trump said on Wednesday that Iran "appears to be standing down" after Tehran launched missiles at Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops.
“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,” Trump said in an address to the nation from the Grand Foyer of the White House.
In a span of just 24 hours, Trump went from threatening to devastate Iran and bomb its cultural sites — a move widely considered a war crime and condemned by Republicans — to calmly delivering a measured address about slapping economic sanctions on the country, striking a new nuclear deal and urging an international institution — NATO — to become more involved in the Middle East.
“The fact that we have this great military and equipment … does not mean we have to use it,” Trump said in televised remarks late Wednesday morning, surrounded by a phalanx of men in uniform who stood in a half-moon formation behind his podium. “We do not want to use it.”
The about-face was classic Trump: ratcheting up the tough talk and then retreating with a conciliatory tone. It’s a playbook the president rolled out for China, North Korea, Iran and a long list of domestic policy concerns. And it’s dizzied some of his allies and adversaries who are still trying to make sense of a president who is wrapping up his third year in office.
Iran was just the latest example of a pattern of behavior in which the Trump administration acted boldly, ratcheted up a situation and then sought credit for extinguishing the crisis.
“The president narrowly avoided a needless war today,” said Wendy Sherman, the former under secretary of State for political affairs under President Barack Obama and the lead negotiator for the Iran nuclear deal. “The president is both the arsonist and the fireman. He set the world on flames when he left the JCPOA and then when he decided to kill Qassem Soleimani. Now, he wants to be the fireman and say, ‘I put this all out. It was President Obama who caused all of the problems.’ And, of course, President Trump caused the problems.”
Trump concluded his speech Wednesday signaling open arms with a far gentler style than his typical posture of us-versus-them politics. “The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it,” Trump said.
President Donald Trump authorized the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani seven months ago if Iran's increased aggression resulted in the death of an American, according to five current and former senior administration officials.
The presidential directive in June came with the condition that Trump would have final signoff on any specific operation to kill Soleimani, officials said.
That decision explains why assassinating Soleimani was on the menu of options that the military presented to Trump two weeks ago for responding to an attack by Iranian proxies in Iraq, in which a U.S. contractor was killed and four U.S. service members were wounded, the officials said.
The timing, however, could undermine the Trump administration's stated justification for ordering the U.S. drone strike that killed Soleimani in Baghdad on Jan. 3. Officials have said Soleimani, the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' elite Quds Force, was planning imminent attacks on Americans and had to be stopped.
"There have been a number of options presented to the president over the course of time," a senior administration official said, adding that it was "some time ago" that the president's aides put assassinating Soleimani on the list of potential responses to Iranian aggression.
President Trump recounted minute-by-minute details of the US strike that killed Iran's top military commander during remarks to high-dollar Republican donors at his South Florida estate, according to audio obtained by CNN.