Trump approved strikes on Iran but abruptly canceled it - reports

2019-06-21 09:48

US President Donald Trump approved military strikes on Friday against Iran in retaliation for the downing of an unmanned surveillance drone, but pulled back from launching the attacks, the New York Times reported.

A US official told Associated Press that the military made preparations on Thursday night for limited strikes on Iran in retaliation for a drone's downing, but approval was abruptly withdrawn.

The official, who was not authorised to discuss the operation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the targets would have included radars and missile batteries.

READ: US holds Iran 'responsible' for reported Gulf attacks on tankers

Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles fired, when the order to stand down came, the Times cited one senior administration official as saying.

The abrupt reversal put a halt to what would have been Trump's third military action against targets in the Middle East, the paper added, saying Trump had struck twice at targets in Syria, in 2017 and 2018.

Attacks on Iran might still go forward

However, it is not clear whether attacks on Iran might still go forward, the paper said, adding that it was not known if the cancellation of strikes had resulted from Trump changing his mind or administration concerns regarding logistics or strategy.

The White House on Thursday night declined requests for information about whether Trump changed his mind.

Trump initially said "Iran had made a very big mistake," but later said the shooting down of the drone was not "intentional", in an apparent turnaround amid fears the escalating tensions between the two countries could lead to an open confrontation in the Gulf.

Trump spent most of Thursday discussing Iran strategy with top national security advisers and congressional leaders. Asked earlier in the day about a US response to the attack, he said: "You'll soon find out."

Iran on Thursday called the US' unmanned aircraft "provocative" and "very dangerous" as it justified its decision to shoot the drone, which the Pentagon said was an "unprovoked attack" in international airspace.

In a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the Security Council, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht Ravanchi called the flight a "blatant violation of international law".

"While the Islamic Republic of Iran does not seek war, it reserves its inherent right... to take all appropriate necessary measures against any hostile act violating its territory, and is determined to vigorously defend its land, sea and air," Ravanchi said.

"This is not the first provocative act by the United States against Iran's territorial integrity."

Meanwhile, Washington has barred American civilian flights from Tehran-controlled airspace due to "heightened military activities and increased political tensions in the region".

Differing accounts

Earlier in the day, the two countries offered differing accounts over the incident.

Washington said the drone had been downed in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.

But Tehran disputed where the incident took place, saying the drone had violated Iranian airspace over the southern coastal province of Hormozgan.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in a Twitter post, gave the exact co-ordinates at which he said the drone was shot, adding that Iran has retrieved sections of the drone from its territorial waters.

The US Pentagon later released an image it said showed the flight path for the downed drone but did not immediately provide a detailed explanation of the image.

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