Donald Trump has declared Iran “appears to be standing down” from the brink of war after it carried out missile strikes on two Iraqi bases housing US troops.
The president confirmed no US soldiers were harmed in the overnight attacks, but in an apparent show of determination, he insisted America would impose economic sanctions on Iran that would remain in place “until Iran changes its behaviour”.
In his address, from the grand foyer of the White House, and flanked by his top defence and security officials, Mr Trump told Americans they should be “extremely grateful and happy” that no US citizen was harmed in the attacks.
“Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good think for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world,” he said.
Shortly after the speech, one of Iraq’s leading clerics, Moqtadr al Sadr said the crisis was over and he called on militias in the country to be patient and not re-start military action – but the Iraqi military has since said that two rockets have fallen on the Green Zone in Baghdad. No casualties have been reported.
Mr Trump defended his decision to target Iran’s Major General Qassem Soleimani who was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad, Iraq, last Friday.
The president called him a “ruthless terrorist”, saying the general’s hands were “drenched in both American and Iranian blood” and he had been planning new attacks. “But we stopped him,” he added.
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Not backing down from his preparedness to attack, Mr Trump said the US military had been “completely rebuilt” under his administration, saying: “Our missiles are big, powerful, accurate, lethal and fast… the fact that we have this great military equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it. We do not want to use it.”
“Peace and stability cannot prevail in the Middle East as long as Iran continues to foment violence, unrest, hatred and war,” he said. “Your campaign of terror, murder, mayhem, will not be tolerated any longer.”
But he moved to strike a more positive tone, saying the US and Iran should work together on shared priorities, adding: “To the people and leaders of Iran: We want you to have a future and a great future – one that you deserve. One of prosperity at home and harmony with the nations of the world.
“The US is ready to embrace peace and all who seek it.”
He made his conditions clear, though: Iran must give up its nuclear ambitions and he demanded that the UK, France, China, Russia and Germany follow his lead and ditch the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA).
This came just hours after Boris Johnson told MPs that resurrecting the deal is the best way forward for solving the crisis in the Middle East.
In what some will say is posturing by Mr Trump ahead of an election campaign, he opened his speech by telling reporters: “As long as I am president of the US, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.”
Mr Trump has made no secret of his hatred of the Iran nuclear deal, and pulled the US out of it in March 2018.
He said: “For far too long – all the way back to 1979 to be exact – nations have tolerated Iran’s destructive and destabilising behaviour in the Middle East and beyond. Those days are over.”
Addressing the other signatories on Wednesday, he said: “The very defective JCPOA expires shortly anyway and gives Iran a clear and quick path to nuclear breakout.
“Iran must abandon its nuclear ambitions and end its support for terrorism.
“The time has come for the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia and China to recognise this reality.
“They must now break away from the remnants of the Iran deal – or JCPOA – and we must all work together towards making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place.”
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The US president accused Iran of going on a “terror spree” with the money from the deal, claimed the missiles fired at Iraqi bases “were paid for by the funds made available by the last administration”, and said Iranians chanted “Death to America” when they should have been thanking them.
He announced he will go to NATO to ask them to be “much more involved in the Middle East process”, before claiming America does not need Middle East oil because of the strength of the economy since he came into office.
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It comes after the British prime minister split from Washington and defended the Iran nuclear deal, saying: “It is our view that the JCPOA remains the best way of preventing nuclear proliferation in Iran, the best way of encouraging the Iranians not to develop a nuclear weapon.
“And we think that after this crisis has abated, which, of course, we sincerely hope it will, that way forward will remain. It is a shell that is currently being voided, but it remains a shell into which we can put substance again.”
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard confirmed it launched the attacks targeting the Erbil and Al Asad bases in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of Major General Soleimani.
Iraqi officials said four of the 22 missiles failed to launch. Tehran had informed Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi that a response “to the assassination of the martyr Qassem Soleimani had begun or it will start in a little while”.
Mr Abdul-Mahdi said he was told the strike would be limited to where the US army is located in Iraq “without specifying its location”.
More than 5,000 US troops and 400 British soldiers remain in Iraq, along with other foreign forces, in a coalition that has trained and backed Iraqi forces against the threat of IS militants.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani vowed the missile attacks will not be the country’s final retaliation for Maj Gen Soleimani’s assassination, saying he will “kick all US forces out of the region”.
The attack was a major escalation between the US and Iran and was the Middle East country’s most direct assault on America since the 1979 seizing of the US embassy in Tehran.
It is also the first time in recent years Washington and Tehran have attacked each other directly instead of through proxies across the region.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the missile strike a “slap in the face” of the Americans, adding that military retaliation is not sufficient.
“The corrupt presence of the US in the region should come to end,” he said.
Al Asad air base, in Iraq’s western Anbar province, was first used by American forces after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
It later saw American troops stationed there amid the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.
Hours after the missile attacks, a Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 carrying 176 people, including three British people, crashed shortly after taking off from Iran’s main international airport.
There were no survivors and Ukraine’s president has ordered criminal proceedings to be opened.