Trump ‘approved Iran strikes but pulled back’
President Donald Trump has said the US military was “cocked and loaded to retaliate” against Iran, but he changed his mind 10 minutes before planned strikes.
Attacks on three sites were planned in response to the shooting down of a US unmanned drone.
Mr Trump said he had called off strikes after being told 150 people would die.
He tweeted: “10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone”.
The late reversal was first reported by the New York Times on Thursday night. The newspaper said the operation had been “in its early stages” when Mr Trump stood the US military down.
“I am in no hurry,” Mr Trump said on Friday. “Our military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world.”
Tehran says the unmanned US aircraft entered Iranian airspace early on Thursday morning. The US maintains it was shot down in international airspace.
Tensions have been escalating between the two countries, with the US recently blaming Iran for attacks on oil tankers operating in the region. Iran has announced it will soon exceed international agreed limits on its nuclear programme.
Last year, the US unilaterally pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear activities.
“Iran can NEVER have nuclear weapons,” Mr Trump said in his tweets on the aborted strikes – also revealing that increased economic sanctions against Iran were “added last night”.
In its initial report, The New York Times said that as late as 19:00 local time (23:00 GMT) on Thursday, US military and diplomatic officials had still expected the strikes to take place on agreed targets, including Iranian radar and missile batteries.
“Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired when word came to stand down,” the newspaper reported, citing an unnamed senior administration official.
The strikes had been set to take place just before dawn on Friday to minimise risk to the Iranian military or to civilians, the newspaper added.
Tweeting on Friday, Mr Trump said three sites had been targeted.
The Associated Press quoted a US official as saying the strikes had been recommended by the Pentagon and had been among options presented to senior administration officials.
According to the New York Times, top Pentagon officials warned a military response could result in a spiralling escalation with risks for US forces in the region.
The operation was called off after President Trump spent most of Thursday discussing Iran with his national security advisers and congressional leaders, AP reports.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton had pushed for a hardline stance, but congressional leaders urged caution, the agency says.
Separately, Reuters quoted two Iranian officials as saying Tehran had received a message from Mr Trump through Oman overnight warning about an imminent US attack.