President Donald Trump signs an executive order targeting Iran’s supreme leader and his associates with financial sanctions, the latest action the U.S. has taken to pressure Tehran from developing nuclear weapons and supporting militant groups. (June 24)
WASHINGTON – Iran ratcheted up its bellicose rhetoric toward the U.S. on Monday as the Trump administration announced new sanctions in response to the downing of a drone last week.
The U.S. has said the drone was shot down over international waters, while Iran claims it was over its territory.
“The enemy dispatched its most sophisticated, smartest and most complicated surveillance aircraft to the banned area, and everyone saw the shooting down of the unmanned aerial vehicle,” Iranian Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi said Monday. “We confidently say that this crushing response can be repeated … and the enemy is aware of this.”
President Donald Trump said in an interview that aired Sunday that he had considered retaliatory air strikes, but decided not to move forward when learned that as many as 150 could be killed, which he said would not have been a “proportionate” response to the loss of an unmanned drone.
Here is what we know about the current state of tensions between the U.S. and Iran:
New sanctions on Iran
On Monday, President Donald Trump announced that he would be levying new sanctions on Iran that would deny Iran’s Supreme Leader and “those closely affiliated with him” access to certain financial resources.
“Today’s action follows a series of aggressive behaviors by the Iranian regime in recent weeks including shooting down of U.S. drones,” Trump told reporters at the White House before signing an executive order to implement the penalties.
The White House did not immediately release details on the sanctions, though they will be added to an existing set of sanctions that have had a devastating effect on the Iranian economy.
The downed drone
“A U.S. Navy RQ-4 was flying over the Gulf of Oman and the Strait of Hormuz on a surveillance mission in international airspace in the vicinity of recent IRGC maritime attacks when it was shot down by an IRGC surface to air missile fired from a location in the vicinity of Goruk, Iran,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, after the American aircraft was lost on June 20.
“This was an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset that had not violated Iranian airspace at any time during its mission,” he continued. “This attack is an attempt to disrupt our ability to monitor the area following recent threats to international shipping and free flow of commerce.”
Iran has alleged that the drone had violated Iranian airspace, saying the drone fell in the Kouh-e Mobarak region in the central district of Jask.
Major General Hossein Salami, a spokesperson for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, said the incident serves as a warning to the U.S.
“The downing of the U.S. drone had an explicit, decisive and clear message that defenders of the Islamic Iran’s borders will show decisive and knockout reactions to aggression against this territory,” Salami said at a news conference in Kurdistan Province. “Borders are our redline, and any enemy violating these borders will not go back.”
Guastella said Iran’s claims that the drone was shot down over Iranian airspace were “categorically false.”
As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tries to building a coalition overseas against Tehran, White House aide Kellyanne Conway said the president is taking a hardline toward Iran but still wants talks. She also pushed Congress on immigration. (June 24)
Trump discussed the loss of the drone during an Oval Office meeting later on Thursday, saying, “Iran made a big mistake. This drone was in international waters, clearly. We have it all documented scientifically not just words. And they made a very bad mistake.”
Trump added that he thought it was someone “loose and stupid who did it.”
During an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Trump said he decided not to carry out air strikes against Iran.
“They shot down an unmanned drone, plane, whatever you want to call it. And here we are sitting with 150 dead people that would have taken place probably within a half an hour after I said go ahead. And I didn’t like it,” he said. “I didn’t think it was proportionate.”
Trump, who pulled the U.S. out of an agreement in which Iran agreed to halt its nuclear weapons development program, told reporters Saturday that the most important issue is preventing Iran from completing that goal.
He said the U.S. could be Iran’s “best friend” if the Islamic Republic agreed to stop their quest to obtain nuclear weapons.
“When they agree to that, they’re going to have a wealthy country,” Trump said. “Let’s make Iran great again.”
Trump told NBC he is willing to hold talks with Iran on such an agreement with “no preconditions.”
While Trump backed off airstrikes, U.S. military cyber forces launched a strike against Iranian military computer systems on Thursday, according to U.S. officials. The cyberattacks disabled Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps computer systems that controlled its rocket and missile launchers, the officials said.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Sunday the U.S. “conducted a cyber operation contrary to international law.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Saudi Arabia on Monday, where he held what he described as a “productive meeting” with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss the escalating tensions with Iran.
Saudi Arabia has been fighting Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen for more than four years. Ahead of Pompeo’s visit, the rebels attacked a Saudi airport, killing a Syrian resident and wounding 21 other civilians, the Saudi military said. The rebels said the attack was in response to Saudi airstrikes.
Pompeo also will visit the United Arab Emirates in a bid to consolidate allies in the region en route to strengthening a global coalition against what the U.S. sees as Iranian aggression.
Iran’s drone takedown came a week after two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman.
The Trump administration has said that Iran was responsible for those attacks, although Iran has denied responsibility. Since then, the U.S. military has released video and photographs claiming to show a relationship between Iranian forces and the attacks on the tankers.
Despite previous comments by top Trump administration advisers on the threat posed by Iran, Trump has contradicted his top advisers. In an interview with TIME posted this week, Trump said that the attacks were “very minor.”
The U.S. has also deployed more troops to the Middle East in what Pentagon officials say is a direct response to Iran’s provocations.
On Monday, June 17, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced that 1,000 troops would be sent to the Middle East “to address air, naval, and ground-based threats in the Middle East.” Shanahan cited “hostile behavior by Iranian forces and their proxy groups that threaten United States personnel and interests across the region.”
Contributing: Deirdre Shesgreen, Michael Collins, John Bacon, Rebecca Morin and Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
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