President Trump approved military strikes against Iran in retaliation for downing an American surveillance drone, but pulled back from launching them on Thursday night after a day of escalating tensions. As late as 7 p.m., military and diplomatic officials were expecting a strike, after intense discussions and debate at the White House among the president's top national security officials and congressional leaders, according to multiple senior administration officials involved in or briefed on the deliberations.
President Donald Trump declared Thursday that "Iran made a very big mistake" by shooting down a U.S. surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz but suggested it was a foolish error rather than an intentional escalation of the tensions that have led to rising fears of open military conflict. Asked about a U.S. response, the president said pointedly, "You'll soon find out."
The U.S. ambassador to the European Union questioned the bloc's stance toward Iran, underscoring the transatlantic tensions over relations with Tehran. Gordon Sondland said the EU's refusal so far to pin blame on the country for an attack last week on two oil tankers outside the entrance to the Persian Gulf only served to strengthen the Iranian administration.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Senior officials from Iran, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia will meet on June 28 in Vienna to discuss ways to save the 2015 nuclear accord with Tehran, the European Union said on Thursday. The meeting will look at how to "tackle challenges arising from the withdrawal and re-imposition of sanctions by the United States on Iran," the EU added, referring to U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to quit the deal last year.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Some global airlines are re-routing flights to avoid Iran-controlled airspace over the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman, they said on Friday, after the U.S. aviation regulator barred its carriers from the area until further notice. Thursday's emergency order from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) came after Iran shot down a high-altitude U.S. drone with a surface-to-air missile, sparking concerns about a threat to the safety of commercial airlines.
Oil prices rallied towards $65 per barrel on fears of a U.S. military attack on Iran that would disrupt flows from the Middle East, which provides more than 20% of the world's oil output. Brent crude was up 42 cents, or 0.66%, at $64.87 a barrel by 0850 GMT. The global benchmark jumped 4.3% on Thursday and was up around five percent for the week, in its first weekly gain in five weeks. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was up 21 cents, or 0.38%, at $57.28 a barrel.
"It is not the role of the United States to take the lead in protecting neutral shipping in the [Persian] Gulf."(1) That was George Shultz, President Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State, arguing in early 1987 against granting a request from Kuwait to reflag its oil tankers as American and gain protection from Iran during the so-called "Tanker War." Shultz didn't prevail. The reflagging and U.S. Navy convoy operation known as Earnest Will kicked off within months.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
FIFA President Gianni Infantino has demanded Iran provide assurances women will be allowed to attend 2022 World Cup qualifiers after expressing disappointment the country has reneged on its commitments to open up stadiums. Infantino faced criticism for attending a Tehran derby in March 2018 where women were shut out of the stadium. But when he returned to the Iranian capital in November for the Asian Champions League final, hundreds of Iranian women were allowed to watch Persepolis play Kashima Antlers of Japan.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Asked how the United States will respond to Iran after Iran shot down an American drone, U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters, "You'll find out." Trump called Iran's move a big mistake in remarks to reporters before a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but kept open the possibility of talks with Iran. Trump also said the United States has documented that its drone was in international waters, not in Iranian territory, as Tehran has said.
The Trump administration has portrayed Iran's recent moves, including its threat to resume stockpiling low-enriched uranium in violation of the nuclear agreement, as proof that Iran is an implacable rogue state, bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, that can be contained only through the threat of military force. Iran has indeed often acted as a regional provocateur, but in this case some nonpartisan experts on Iran and on United States policy in the Middle East see something different.
Iranian officials told Reuters on Friday that Tehran had received a message from U.S. President Donald Trump through Oman overnight warning that a U.S. attack on Iran was imminent. They spoke shortly after the New York Times reported that Trump had approved military strikes against Iran on Friday in retaliation for the downing of a U.S. surveillance drone, but called off the attacks at the last minute. "In his message, Trump said he was against any war with Iran and wanted to talk to Tehran about various issues..."
The United States is trying to create "Iran phobia", Iran's defence minister Amir Hatami said on Friday, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA). "Very complicated and suspicious conditions exist in the region," he was quoted as saying. "It seems that all of this is in line with an overall policy for creating Iran phobia and creating a consensus against the Islamic Republic."
The debris field from a U.S. military drone that was shot down by Iran is in international waters in the Strait of Hormuz, and U.S. naval assets have been dispatched to the area, a U.S. official told Reuters, contradicting Iran's account of the shoot-down. The U.S. military did not immediately comment about the location of the debris from the Navy MQ-4C Triton drone.
As the Trump administration tries to rally international support for its case against Tehran, it faces the quandary that on two key objectives-curtailing Iran's nuclear program and reversing Iran's assertive behavior in the Middle East-its policies have so far had the opposite effect. In outlining the administration's demands last year for a new Iran deal, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted that Iran stop enriching all uranium and halt its "malign behavior"in the Middle East, vowing to impose "the strongest sanctions in history."
Weeks of threats and counterthreats have culminated here: Iran shot down a U.S. surveillance drone overnight, marking the most serious escalation to date in the U.S.-Iran confrontation. The U.S. has been accusing Iran and its allies of repeated attacks against commercial shipping and U.S. allies and interests in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, but now, for the first time, Iran has claimed a direct attack on an American military target.
From the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor in 1898 to the U.S.S. Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964, maritime incidents, shrouded in the fog of uncertainty, have lured the United States into wars on foreign shoals. Which is why cooler heads must prevail - and Congress must be consulted - as American and Iranian forces inch closer to open conflict in and around the Strait of Hormuz.
With the United States on the brink of a potential military conflict with Iran on Thursday, the Pentagon decided to say...well, almost nothing. Officials at the Department of Defense summoned reporters to a hastily arranged briefing to discuss the tense situation unfolding in the Gulf of Oman after Iran's military shot down an American surveillance drone. The incident followed attacks on shipping vessels in the region last week.
There is a danger that Iran's attack on a U.S. surveillance drone could turn America's strategy of deterrence into a full-blown conflict. But the U.S. has several options short of a full war to respond to this latest provocation. And President Donald Trump, who downplayed Iran's non-lethal attack last week on two oil tankers near Oman, also downplayed the drone incident. "I find it hard to believe it was intentional," he said Wednesday. "It could have been somebody who was loose and stupid."
CONGRESS & IRAN
Several top U.S. House Republicans, including leader Kevin McCarthy, said on Thursday the United States must undertake a "measured response" to Iran after Washington accused Tehran of shooting down a drone and attacking oil tankers. "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," McCarthy and Representatives Michael McCaul, Mac Thornberry and Devin Nunes said in a statement.
The Trump administration called top congressional leaders to the White House for a briefing later on Thursday on Iran following the downing of a U.S. surveillance drone, a source with knowledge of the meeting said. The meeting, with the top four leaders of the U.S. Congress as well as heads of the U.S. Congress Armed Services and Intelligence committees, will be held in the White House Situation Room at 3 p.m. (1900 GMT), the source said.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that a U.S. military attack on Iran would be a catastrophe for the Middle East that would trigger a surge in violence and a possible refugee exodus. Putin, speaking during his annual televised question and answer session, said Moscow believed Tehran was in full compliance with its nuclear commitments and called sanctions against Iran groundless.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday called on the international community to support the United States against Iran as tensions between the two countries escalated after the downing of a U.S. drone by Iran. "In the last 24 hours Iran has intensified its aggression against the United States and against all of us. And I repeat my call for all peace-loving countries to stand by the United States in its effort to stop Iranian aggression," Netanyahu said in a statement. "Israel stands by the United States on this."
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Iran has created a grave situation and jeopardized global oil supplies with its aggressive behavior, Saudi Arabia's minister of state for foreign affairs said on Thursday, adding that the kingdom was consulting with allies on next steps. The United States and Saudi Arabia are among countries that have blamed Iran for attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, a major transit route for global oil supplies. Tehran has denied involvement.
U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook met Saudi Arabia's Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman in Riyadh on Friday, the minister tweeted. They discussed recent attacks in the region which the United States and Saudi Arabia blame on Iran and Iran denies being behind. Prince Khalid affirmed Saudi support for the U.S. campaign to pressure Tehran.
When two countries begin to threaten war in 2019, it's a safe bet that they've already been hacking each other's networks. Right on schedule, three different cybersecurity firms now say they've watched Iran's hackers try to gain access to a wide array of US organizations over the past few weeks, just as military tensions between the two countries rise to a breaking point-though it's not yet clear whether those hacker intrusions are aimed at intelligence gathering, laying the groundwork for a more disruptive cyberattack, or both.
Iran's state-sponsored computer hackers have been under a steady and unusually public bombardment in recent months, with details of their secret operations bared to the world and portions of their online infrastructure stolen away. That unwanted attention has left Iran's cyberwarriors battered and bruised, even as tensions with the West elevate to new levels. If you're looking for a way to inflict pain on America and its allies without killing American troops or citizens, cyber seems like a domain that's ripe for mischief.