WASHINGTON/DUBAI — US President Donald Trump approved military strikes against Iran on Friday in retaliation for the downing of a US surveillance drone, but called off the attacks at the last minute, The New York Times reported.
The newspaper cited an official from the United States, who was not authorized to discuss the operation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, and said the targets would have included radars and missile batteries.
Strikes were set to take place just before dawn on Friday to minimize risk to the Iranian military or to civilians. “Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles fired, when the order to stand down came,” the official said.
It was unclear if attacks on Iran might go ahead later, the newspaper reported, nor was it known whether Trump had changed his mind or whether his administration had become concerned about logistics or strategy. The White House declined requests for comment.
Iranian officials said on Friday that Teheran had received a message from Trump through Oman overnight warning that a US attack on Iran was imminent.
“In his message, Trump said he was against any war with Iran and wanted to talk to Teheran about various issues … he gave a short period of time to get our response but Iran’s immediate response was that it is up to Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei to decide about this issue,” one of the officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps said it had shot down a US unmanned aircraft RQ-4 Global Hawk on Thursday, which prompted accusations from Washington and Teheran about who was the aggressor.
Iran insisted the drone was shot down when it entered Iran’s airspace near Mobarak Mountain region in southern coastal Hormozgan Province, and said the drone was on a spy mission. A general said on Friday that Iran had given two warnings before downing the US drone.
But the US said it had been flying over international waters.
Independent confirmation of the drone’s location when it was brought down was not immediately available.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Friday that Beijing has repeatedly called upon all related parties to remain rational, exercise restraint and avoid any moves that will escalate tensions
Noting that the current situation in the Persian Gulf region is complicated and sensitive, Lu said relevant parties should not “open Pandora’s box”.
Those parties involved should respect each other, properly resolve their differences through dialogue and negotiation and jointly safeguard regional peace and stability, he said.
Majid Takht-e Ravanchi, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, said Iran had the right to defend its sovereignty according to the global body’s charter.
Trump’s initial comments on the attack were succinct, declaring on social media that “Iran made a very big mistake!”
But he also suggested that shooting down the drone — which has a wingspan wider than a Boeing 737 — was a foolish error rather than an intentional escalation, suggesting he may have been looking for some way to avoid a crisis. “I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth. I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it.”
Meanwhile, the US Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency order on Thursday prohibiting US operators from flying in Iran-controlled airspace over the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman due to heightened tensions.
The order came hours after United Airlines suspended flights between New Jersey’s Newark airport and the Indian financial capital of Mumbai, which fly through Iranian airspace.
Russia accused the US on Friday of deliberately stoking dangerous tensions around Iran and pushing the situation to the brink of war, the RIA news agency reported.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called on Washington to weigh the possible consequences of conflict with Iran and said a report in The New York Times showed the situation was extremely dangerous.