WASHINGTON — President Trump touted his decision to call off a strike against Iran in an interview on Fox Business Network Wednesday morning. The aborted strike came after the U.S. military accused Iran of shooting down an American drone over international waters on June 20.
Trump called off the operation minutes before it was set to begin because he was told it would kill 150 Iranians and felt that was not a proportionate response. The president discussed his thinking in the interview.
“They shot down our drone. I decided not to kill a lot of Iranians. I know a lot of Iranians. I like Iranians so much, and that plays into your decision too,” Trump said, adding, “I mean, they’re human beings. They’re people. I didn’t want to kill 150 people when they shot down an unmanned drone, so I didn’t do that.”
The shootdown of the drone came amid steadily escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran over that country’s nuclear program. Iran’s government said the drone was over its airspace. Some international observers and even U.S. officials have cast doubt on the claim the drone was over international waters. Last May, Trump pulled out of the multilateral nuclear accord with Iran that was crafted by the administration of President Barack Obama. Since then, Iran has said it will step up uranium production, and the U.S. has increased its military presence in the region.
The Trump administration, which has said it will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, has also accused Tehran of being responsible for recent attacks on commercial ships in the region.
Trump brought up the aborted strike when Fox Business Network host Maria Bartiromo asked him point-blank, “Are we going to have a war with Iran, Mr. President?”
“I hope we don’t, but we’re in a very strong position if something should happen. We’re in a very strong position. It wouldn’t last very long. I can tell you that,” Trump said.
Even as tensions have mounted between the U.S. and Tehran, the Trump administration has maintained that the president does not want to go to war. Trump has campaigned on the idea of stopping the “endless” American wars in the Middle East, and his advisers say the president’s strategy for Iran remains focused on using sanctions to apply “maximum economic pressure.” However, Trump has acknowledged that some of his top aides, particularly national security adviser John Bolton, are advocating a more hawkish approach to Iran.
In his interview with Bartiromo, Trump was asked if he still believes sanctions are sufficient, and he described them as “very biting” and effective at curbing Iran’s hopes of being a military power. Trump, who has suggested he would not need an exit strategy for a potential conflict with Iran, also discussed what his vision for military action might look like. Though many experts believe a war with Iran would be a large-scale conflict, Trump vowed it could be limited in scope and quick.
“I’m not talking boots on the ground. I’m not talking we’re going to send a million soldiers,” Trump said. “I’m just saying if something would happen, wouldn’t last very long.”
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