No US Casualties in Iran Missile Strike, Trump Says

WASHINGTON (CN) – Responding to Iran’s retaliatory strike on bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq, President Donald Trump said Wednesday he would invoke more sanctions on Iran so long as it continues to pursue development of nuclear power.

“As long as I am president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon,” Trump said at the top of his remarks before confirming that no Americans were harmed in the Tuesday afternoon strike on two bases.

Speaking from the White House on Wednesday, President Donald Trump addresses the nation regarding the ballistic missile strike that Iran launched against Iraqi air bases housing U.S. troops. At right, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and military leaders look on. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The bases hit were Ain al-Asad in the Anbar province west of Baghdad and in Irbil, close to the U.S. consulate located further north in the nation. The U.S. consulate was not damaged nor was it directly targeted, according to multiple reports circulating Wednesday morning, citing insight from anonymous State and Defense Department officials, respectively.

Tuesday’s strike by Iranian forces was made in retaliation for the Jan. 3 airstrike by U.S. forces killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.

Thanks to early warnings by the Pentagon, U.S. troops in Iraq were able to escape the incoming fire. President Trump said the damage wrought on the facilities was also minimal.

“Our great American forces are prepared for anything, Iran appears to be standing down, a good thing for all parties concerned and a good thing for the world,” Trump said.

Trump also called on NATO and U.S. allies, including the United Kingdom, Germany and France, to get more involved in combatting terrorism in the Middle East and to do so by breaking away from the remnants of the 2015 Iran deal established by former President Barack Obama.

Another agreement must be sought, Trump said, adding that Russia and China also need to take a tougher stance.

“We must make a deal that allows Iran to thrive and prosper and take advantage of its enormous untapped potential,” Trump said during his brief remarks from the White House.

Trump yanked the U.S. out of the hard-fought Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, sparking widespread criticism for over a year, particularly by those in national-security and foreign-policy circles.

Iran and U.S. allies in Europe had still observed the agreement to limit uranium enrichment and stockpiling up until Sunday when Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif announced, with the recent exchange of fire, that all bets were off. 

A willingness for negotiation by the Iranian leadership is difficult to gauge due to mixed public messages coming from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khahmenei, Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif and Hesameddin Ashena, the senior adviser to Khahmenei.  

As the airstrikes from Iran into Iraq unfolded, Zarif took to Twitter to say that the airstrike was not indicative of Iran seeking escalation to full-blown war with the U.S.

He instead portrayed the launch as an act of self-defense done in proportional response to Solemani’s killing.

Mourners gather during a funeral procession Tuesday in Basra, Iraq, for Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in the poster, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias who was killed in a U.S. airstrike Friday. The funeral drew thousands. (AP Photo)

Ahead of Trump’s remarks from Washington, however, Khahmenei appeared in a prepared speech for Iranian state television Wednesday morning to suggest that escalation was still on the table.

“They were slapped last night but such military actions are not enough,” Khamenei said. “The corruptive presence of the U.S. in the West Asian region must be stopped.”

Khamenei also blamed the U.S. for causing international wars, sowing division around the world and for demolishing infrastructure in the Middle East.

In a cutting message of his own before Trump’s announcement of new sanctions, Khahmenei’s senior adviser Ashena singled out U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“You wanted a better deal,” Ashena wrote, referencing Trump’s assertions that the 2015 Iran nuclear deal was a one-sided disaster. “Looks like you are going to get a war instead. That’s what happens when you listen to that clown Pompeo. Don’t be the worst dealmaker in history.”

Secretary Pompeo has repeated assertions in recent days that the new tensions between the U.S. and Iran are rooted in the Obama administration. During a weekend appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” Pompeo said there is much still to do to correct for eight years of neglect and appeasement.

Trump also jabbed at Obama during his press conference Wednesday.

“The missiles fired at us last night were paid for by the last administration,” Trump said.

A representative from the State Department did not immediately return request for comment.

Though vowing additional sanctions, exactly what those sanctions entail isn’t yet clear.

Multiple rounds of sanctions have already been enforced against Iran, including those placed on the Central Bank of Iran and the National Development Fund of Iran in September following attacks on oil fields in Saudi Arabia.

A year before that, the administration sanctioned the head of the Central Bank of Iran, Valiollah Seif, and dubbed him a terrorist responsible for disseminating funds to Hezbollah. In September, the Department of the Treasury announced it would place sanctions on a host of Chinese companies that import oil from Iran.

The fallout from sanctions has resulted in a considerable hit to Iranian crude exports.

In a December event for the Tehran Chamber of Commerce, Iran’s first-ever Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri said crude exports had declined massively. Energy commodity trackers, like the Europe-based Kpler, have estimated Iran exports just 100 to 300,000 barrels per day.

In comparison, nations like Saudi Arabia produce roughly 10 million barrels of oil for export per day.

Democratic lawmakers in particular have been highly critical of the administration’s decision to kill Soleimani without first receiving authorization from Congress. Before Tuesday night’s attack, Democrats were pushing on a resolution to limit the president’s war powers.

Before a vote on that bill hits the House floor Thursday, lawmakers on the House Rules Committee will debate the resolution tonight in what is known as a markup session.

“The administration took [action] without consulting Congress,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Wednesday. “This action endangered our servicemembers, diplomats and others by risking a serious escalation of tensions with Iran.”

Pelosi called the vote necessary because of Trump’s failure to provide a coherent strategy with Iran.

The resolution, offered by Democratic Representative Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, calls for an end to military action against Iran without congressional approval and that any activity cease within 30 days.

Representatives Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna, both California Democrats, have offered resolutions as well that Pelosi said could be considered at a later time.

Lee’s resolution proposes repealing the 2002 Iraq Authorization for Use of Military Force. Khanna’s resolution proposes a bar on any funding for military action against Iran not authorized by Congress.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled meanwhile to hold a public hearing on Jan. 14 to discuss Soleimani’s killing. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was invited to testify by Committee Chairman Eliot Engel. Engel said he would consider issuing a subpoena if Pompeo defies the request.

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