President Donald Trump has stepped back from new military action against Iran after its missile strikes on Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops caused no casualties but he told Iran he would tighten already crippling U.S. sanctions.
Trump and Iranian officials looked to defuse a crisis that on Wednesday had threatened to spiral into open conflict after the killing of a prominent Iranian general in Iraq on Jan. 3 in a U.S drone strike was followed by Iran’s retaliatory attack.
The tit-for-tat military action, after months of rising tension since the United States withdrew in 2018 from Iran’s nuclear pact with world powers, had stoked global concerns that the Middle East was heading towards another war.
But both sides drew back from the brink, while Arab and other international leaders called for restraint. In Iraq, Muslim Shi’ite groups, opposed to the U.S. presence in Iraq, also sought to cool passions.
“The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it. We do not want to use it,” Trump told the nation after saying Iranian ballistic missiles fired in the early hours of Wednesday caused no casualties and limited damage.
He said Iran “appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned” but he said the United States would impose additional sanctions on Iran, adding to measures that have slashed its oil exports and crippled its economy.
Trump, who faces re-election this year and who accused predecessors of dragging the United States into unnecessary regional wars, did not say what new sanctions would involve.
His comments came hours after Iran’s foreign minister said Iranian missile strikes “concluded” its response to the killing of Qassem Soleimani, a powerful general who masterminded Iran’s drive to build up proxy armies abroad.
The minister, Javad Zarif, said on Twitter that Iran did not “seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression”.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had called Iran’s missile attack a “slap on the face” for the United States and said Iran remained determined to drive U.S. forces out of the region, a policy that analysts say it has pursued via its proxy forces.
But Washington said it had indications Tehran was telling its allies to refrain from new action against U.S. troops.