Having initially said he believed Iran had made an error when it shot down a US drone early on Thursday in the Strait of Hormuz, the president is nonetheless believed to have approved retaliatory military strikes against Tehran.
The operation to hit targets such as radars and missile batteries was in its initial stages, the New York Times said, and planes were in the air and ships had been moved into position.
But before any missiles were fired, the president decided not to go ahead with the operation.
It was not clear if Mr Trump had changed his mind, or whether the strike was called off for operational or strategic reasons, said the report. At the same time Mr Trump was deciding whether to pursue a strike, the Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency order prohibiting US operators from flying in airspace controlled by Iran above “the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman”. The order came as United Airlines suspended its Mumbai-Newark flight that passes over Iran citing safety concerns, the Financial Times said.
It was unclear if the strike approved by the president could subsequently go ahead, or whether Mr Trump was trying to intimidate Tehran without actually using his military. Late on Thursday the White House declined to respond to questions as to whether he had changed his mind.
The New York Times said the strike was planned to have struck on Friday morning local time, and designed to minimise risk to the Iranian military or to civilians.
“But military officials received word a short time later that the strike was off, at least temporarily,” it said.
The revelation came amid a day of mixed signals from the president, as he sought to deal with an increasingly tense situation with Iran after the shooting down of the drone in the Strait of Hormuz.
Speaking to reporters in the White House where he was meeting with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, the president was asked if he was planning a military response to the downing of the drone. “You’ll find out,” he said.
Asked if he was being pressured by others in his administration, the president said this was not the case. “No, no, not at all. In fact in many cases it’s the opposite. But I will say, look, I said I want to get out of these endless wars, I campaigned on that, I want to get out. We’ve been in Afghanistan for 19 years,” he said. http://players.brightcove.net/624246174001/default_default/index.html?videoId=6050529458001Iran military releases footage of ‘missile strike on US drone’ Mr Trump’s tone appeared in contrast to a number of members of his administration, among them secretary of state Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, who have adopted a hardline stance towards Iran, since the president last year pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear deal. “This is a new wrinkle, a new fly in the ointment what happened, shooting down a drone,” said the president. “And this country will not stand for it, that I can tell you.” Later on Thursday, Mr Trump met with congressional leaders to discuss the feud with Iran, against which the US has imposed debilitating sanctions and reportedly launched a disinformation war. After the meeting, senior Democrats warned that Mr Trump would require authorisation from Congress before launching military action. House speaker Nancy Pelosi said the administration should engage with its allies “and do everything in our power to de-escalate”. Meanwhile, several Republican leaders, among them Kevin McCarthy, said there must be a “measured response” to Iran’s actions. “Iran directly attacked a United States asset over international waters. This provocation comes a week after they attacked and destroyed two commercial tankers in international waters,” he said in a statement. Earlier this week, it emerged Iran was set to breach the level of uranium enrichment set in place by the multi-party 2015 deal Mr Trump withdrew Washington from, an announcement that was seen as an attempt by Tehran to try and pressure the European signatories to the deal to help it counter the impact of US sanctions. The circumstances of the shooting down of the drone, a US navy RQ-4A Global Hawk, by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, are disputed. Iran said the drone, with a wingspan larger than a Boeing 737 and costing more than over $100m, had violated its territorial airspace. The US called the missile fire “an unprovoked attack” in international airspace. Either way, it marked the first time Iran had struck the US military, which released a set of coordinates it claimed the drone was shot down at. Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter the aircraft had taken off from the United Arab Emirates “in stealth mode & violated Iranian airspace”. A Revolutionary Guards statement said the drone’s identification transponder had been switched off “in violation of aviation rules and was moving in full secrecy” when it was downed, Reuters quoted the Iranian state broadcaster IRIB as saying.