Trump Warns Iran that US 'Cocked & Loaded' but 'In No Hurry'

The United States was “cocked & loaded,” ready to strike three sites in Iran in retaliation for the downing of a U.S. drone over the Strait of Hormuz but called off the attacks at the last possible moment to spare Iranian lives.

The revelation by U.S. President Donald Trump on social media Friday followed a series of reports, first by The New York Times, that the president initially authorized strikes on a handful of Iranian targets, such as radar and missile batteries, before pulling back.

“We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it,” Trump tweeted, saying the action would have been disproportionate.

“I am in no hurry,” Trump added. “Our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world.”

The president also said that he authorized additional “biting” sanctions against Iran late Thursday night as part of his administration’s maximum pressure campaign to force Iran to restart negotiations over its nuclear program.

“Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!” Trump tweeted.

The White House and Pentagon were said to be in agreement on the decision to hold off on retaliatory strikes.

“There was complete unanimity amongst the president’s advisors and DOD leadership on an appropriate response to Iran’s activities. The president made the final decision,” a senior administration official said Friday.

The move appears to pull both Washington and Tehran back from the brink of an armed conflict that could engulf much of the Middle East. The White House said President Trump spoke Friday with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“The two leaders discussed Saudi Arabia’s critical role in ensuring stability in the Middle East and in the global oil market,” said White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley. “They also discussed the threat posed by the Iranian regime’s escalatory behavior.”

The Reuters news agency reported early Friday that Iranian officials said they had received a message from Trump via Oman overnight, warning of the imminent attack but also that the United States was willing to talk on a range of issues.

But one of the Iranian officials said the offer to talk was met with a firm response.

A U.S. administration official told VOA that Trump did not send a message to Iran. “It is a complete lie and propaganda from Iran,” the official said.

Concern about a potential armed confrontation between the U.S. and Iran has been growing since U.S. officials last week accused Tehran of being responsible for mine attacks on two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, allegations Tehran denies.

U.S. officials have also been voicing growing concern about numerous “threat streams” to U.S. military personnel, U.S. assets and U.S. interests in the Middle East that all “link back to the Iranian regime.”

The U.S. announced this week it was authorizing another 1,000 troops – including a Patriot missile battery and additional manned and unmanned reconnaissance aircraft – to bolster defenses at U.S. positions in Iraq and Syria.

On Thursday, while meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump called the shoot down of the U.S. drone, “a new fly in the ointment.”

He also said the unmanned surveillance drone – a U.S. Navy RQ-4 Global Hawk — was flying over international waters in the Strait of Hormuz when it was hit by an Iranian missile, calling the incident Trump a “very bad mistake.”

Iran has argued the drone flew into its air space, claiming a “blatant violation of International law.”

On Friday, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, showed off pieces of wreckage he said Iran had recovered after shooting down the U.S. drone.

He also said Iran itself had shown restraint, opting not take shoot down another U.S. plane, sparing American lives.

“Another spy aircraft called P8 was flying close to this drone,” Hajizadeh said. “That aircraft is manned, and has around 35 crew members, well we could have targeted that plane.”

“It was our right to do so, and yes it was American, but we didn’t do it,” he said.

U.S. Air Forces Central Command, which oversees U.S. military activity in the region, has called many of the Iranian claims “categorically false.”

“This attack is an attempt to disrupt our ability to monitor the area following recent threats to international shipping and free flow of commerce,” Lt. Gen Joseph Guastella said in a statement he read to reporters at the Pentagon Thursday, adding the drone was 34 kilometers from the Iranian coastline when it was shot down. Under international law territorial waters extend about 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles) from a country’s coast.

The U.S. Defense Department has also released images to bolster its assertion the drone did not enter Iranian airspace. But the Times reported the department erroneously labeled the drone’s fight path the location where it was shot down. An image apparently showing the airborne drone exploding provided little context, the Times reported.

Independent confirmation of the drone’s location when it was shot down was not immediately available.

The RQ-4 drone costs more than $222 million and can surveil about 100,000 square kilometers a day, an area about the size of South Korea or Iceland.

“It’s a really dangerous game and if I was flying in that region – which I have before – I’d be a little more nervous,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a US Air Force Veteran who flew missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, told reporters Friday.

Kinzinger said Iran has moved the situation “this time – and multiple times prior – into the kinetic military realm. This is not the president doing it. I think a military response, even a small one is appropriate but if there’s a strong economic cost then I think that could work too.”

But in recent days, Democrats have expressed concern Trump has not adequately consulted with the U.S. Congress on a military response they say could have grave consequences.

“I think every president would probably say initial, retaliatory strikes are ok but let’s de-escalate this, let’s look for a diplomatic solution,” said Rep. Ami Bera, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told VOA. “He (Trump) may be walking right into the hands of what the Revolutionary Guards want.”

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