Trump Says Military Action Against Iran Still on Table as He Eyes More Sanctions

Iran will 'firmly confront' any U.S. threat, Foreign Ministry spokesman says amid escalating tension after U.S. drone shot down ■ British minister expected in Tehran for talks ■ Iran summons UAE envoy over drone launch

General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, Iran's Head of the Revolutionary Guard's aerospace division, speaks to media next to debris from a downed U.S. drone, Tehran, June 21, 2019.
Meghdad Madadi/Tasnim News/AFP

U.S. President Donald Trump said Saturday he will impose additional sanctions on Iran in an effort to prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, adding that military action is still a possibility.

Trump, who was speaking to reporters at the White House, made his comments after recently calling off military action against Iran to retaliate for the downing of a U.S. military drone.

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"We are putting additional sanctions on Iran," Trump said. "In some cases we are going slowly, but in other cases we are moving rapidly."

The president said military action "is always on the table" against Iran.

But Trump also indicated he was open to reversing the escalation, adding he was willing to quickly reach a deal with Iran that he said would bolster the country's flagging economy.

"We will call it 'Let's make Iran great again.'"

Trump spoke to reporters as he prepared to depart Washington for the presidential retreat Camp David, where he said he would be deliberating on Iran.

On Saturday, Iran said it would respond firmly to any U.S. threat against it, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.

On Thursday, an Iranian missile destroyed a U.S. Global Hawk surveillance drone. Tehran said the drone was shot down over its territory and Washington said it had occurred in international airspace.

Trump said on Friday he aborted a military strike to retaliate for Iran's downing of the U.S. drone because it could have killed 150 people, and signalled he was open to talks with Tehran.

"Regardless of any decision they (U.S. officials) make... we will not allow any of Iran's borders to be violated. Iran will firmly confront any aggression or threat by America," foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told Tasnim.

A senior commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards struck a similarly defiant note, in comments quoted by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). 

Iran Tensions
AP/Haaretz

"This is our response to a violation of Iranian space and if the violation is repeated then our response will be repeated," said Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the Guards' aerospace division. 

"It's possible that this infringement of the Americans was carried out by a general or some operators," he added. 

Worries about a confrontation between Iran and the United States have mounted despite Trump saying that he has no appetite to go to war with Iran. Tehran has also said it is not seeking a war but has warned of a "crushing" response if attacked. 

Worries about a confrontation between Iran and the United States have mounted despite Trump saying that he has no appetite to go to war with Iran. Tehran has also said it is not seeking a war but has warned of a "crushing" response if attacked.

'Powder keg'

"Any mistake by Iran's enemies, in particular America and its regional allies, would be like firing at a powder keg that will burn America, its interests and its allies to the ground," the senior spokesman of Iran's Armed Forces, Abolfazl Shekarchi, told Tasnim on Saturday.

Iran's foreign ministry summoned a diplomatic representative of the United Arab Emirates on Saturday because the UAE allowed the drone that was shot down to be launched from a U.S. military base on its territory, the Fars news agency reported. 

People walk past a mural painting along the wall of the former U.S. embassy in the Iranian capital Tehran, June 22, 2019.
Atta Kenare/AFP

A senior Arab diplomat said the sharply increased tensions would further harm the crisis-hit Middle East region. 

"De-escalation is very important because tempers are flaring ... It's very important we avoid confrontation right now," the senior diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "Confrontation, whatever we think about Trump or Iran, will be disastrous for everyone." 

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday issued an emergency order prohibiting U.S. operators from flying in an oversea area of Tehran-controlled airspace over the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman.

Some other international airlines are taking related precautions, including Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways, which announced Saturday it would suspend operations through Iranian airspace in that area.

But Iran said on Saturday its airspace was "safe and secure" for all planes to cross, Tasnim reported. 

The United States and Iran's main regional rival Saudi Arabia have blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers last week in the Gulf of Oman and on four tankers off the United Arab Emirates on May 12, both near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a major conduit for global oil supplies.

Iran has denied any involvement in those incidents.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Saturday for a political resolution of the crisis, adding: "That is what we are working on." 

Britain's Foreign Office said Middle East minister Andrew Murrison would raise concerns about "Iran's regional conduct and its threat to cease complying with the nuclear deal" during a visit to Tehran on Sunday. 

Tensions began to worsen significantly when Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six powers and reimposed sanctions on the country. The sanctions had been lifted under the pact in return for Tehran curbing its nuclear program.

Iran has threatened to breach the deal if the European signatories to the deal fail to salvage it by shielding Tehran from U.S. sanctions.

"The Europeans will not be given more time beyond July 8 to save the deal," Mousavi said, referring to Iran's deadline of 60 days that Tehran announced in May.