Bolton to Iran: Don't mistake US 'prudence' for weakness

John Bacon

National security adviser John Bolton warned Iran on Sunday not to misinterpret President Donald Trump's decision against military retaliation after Iran downed a U.S. drone as a sign the United States won't use force to protect its interests in the Middle East.

"Neither Iran nor any other hostile actor should mistake U.S. prudence and discretion for weakness," Bolton said while visiting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. "No one has granted them a hunting license in the Middle East. As President Trump said Friday, our military is rebuilt, new and ready to go."

Bolton, who said the world will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons, promised tighter economic sanctions to be announced Monday that could drive leaders of the Persian Gulf state to the bargaining table.

Vice President Mike Pence echoed Bolton on Sunday, telling CNN's "State of the Union" that Iran's economy is "literally crumbling" under the weight of previously imposed sanctions.

"We have isolated them economically and diplomatically," Pence said.

Iran said it shot down the drone over its coast. The Pentagon said the incident played out Thursday in international waters over the Strait of Hormuz. Trump said he canceled a retaliation strike minutes before it was to take place when military leaders told him about the potential for 150 Iranian deaths.

Trump secretly authorized U.S. Cyber Command to carry out a retaliatory cyberattack that disabled Revolutionary Guard systems that control rocket and missile launches, several officials told The Associated Press. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the operation.

The Pentagon declined to confirm the cyberattack reports: "As a matter of policy and for operational security, we do not discuss cyberspace operations, intelligence or planning," spokeswoman Heather Babb said in a statement.

The cyberattack was in retaliation for the drone as well as for recent attacks on oil tankers in the region, according to reports. Iran has denied involvement in the oil tanker attacks.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif rebuffed U.S. warnings, blaming the economic "terrorism" of sanctions for Middle East tensions. Zarif accused Bolton of pushing the United States toward war.

“More evidence ... indicate #B-Team was moments away from trapping @realDonaldTrump into a war,” Zarif tweeted.

Zarif's "B-team" includes Bolton, Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, deputy supreme commander of the United Arab Emirates armed forces. Bolton is in Jerusalem, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is traveling to Saudi Arabia and the UAE for talks on Iran.

“Prudence prevented it, but #EconomicTerrorism brings tension,” Zarif said.

Iranian Maj, Gen. Gholam Ali Rashid warned that Iran was prepared to defend itself against aggression – and that if war flares up, "its scope and timing could not be managed by any country."

Trump has repeatedly said he is willing to negotiate with Iran without conditions.

"We are putting major additional sanctions on Iran on Monday," Trump tweeted. "I look forward to the day that sanctions come off Iran, and they become a productive and prosperous nation again. The sooner the better!"

Trump said he is not ruling out military retaliation.

Tensions between the nations have been on the rise since Trump announced last year that the United States was pulling out of an agreement between Iran and several global powers that curtailed the Persian Gulf nation's nuclear buildup in return for easing some sanctions.

Other nations sought to keep the nuclear deal in place, and Iran was slow to formally bow out. Last week, Iran's nuclear agency warned the country would soon break the uranium stockpile limit set under the agreement.

Since then, oil tankers have twice been attacked. The United States sent additional ships and troops into the region.

Sunday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blamed U.S. "bullying" for tension across the Middle East.

“Most of the regional and international problems have been caused by dictatorship and bullying of certain countries, especially the United States whose roots are in violating international law and moving on the path of unilateralism,” Rouhani said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bolton to Iran: Don't mistake US 'prudence' for weakness