U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday offered a restrained response to Iran's missile attacks targeting U.S.-led forces in Iraq, saying that his country will impose tougher economic sanctions on Tehran but does not intend to use military power.
Tension spiked as Iran fired missiles in the early hours Wednesday at Iraqi bases hosting U.S. troops, in retaliation for the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general last week. The move has raised fears of tit-for-tat actions that may lead to an all-out military conflict.
But Trump, in his statement delivered at the White House on the attacks, said he was "pleased" to report that no American or Iraqi lives were lost at the two bases that were targeted.
The president also said "Iran appears to be standing down" and that the existence of a strong U.S. military with powerful equipment "does not mean we have to use it."
"We do not want to use it. American strength, both military and economic, is the best deterrent," he said.
(President Donald Trump delivers remarks at White House after Iran's missile attacks on U.S.-led forces in Iraq)
Nonetheless, Trump noted that the United States will "immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime," which he said will remain in place until Iran "changes its behavior."
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Wednesday that his nation "slapped" the United States in the face, in an apparent reference to its retaliatory strikes over the death of Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' elite Quds Force.
He also expressed a need to rid the Middle East region of U.S. presence, which he views as a source of wars and destruction.
Calls have been growing from the international community for both sides to exercise restraint to avoid further escalation of tension in the region, which is home to many key oil producers.
Trump said last Friday that he ordered the killing of Soleimani, whom the United States views as having perpetrated acts of terror to destabilize the Middle East for the past 20 years, because the commander was plotting "imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel."
The president has also threatened consequences in the event of a retaliatory strike by Iran, at one point stating on Twitter that "52 Iranian sites," including cultural ones, were targeted.
But the possibility of the situation spiraling into a wider military conflict may have been an unpalatable risk for Trump as he seeks another term in the presidential election in November. He has also been impeached by the House of Representatives for allegedly pressuring a foreign country to investigate a key political rival.
U.S.-Iran relations have been largely adversarial after the 1979 Iranian Revolution led to the fall of a pro-U.S. monarchy. The United States severed diplomatic relations with Iran in 1980 after a group of Iranian students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held embassy personnel hostage.
In recent years, the two countries have been in a standoff over a 2015 multilateral deal to curb Iran's nuclear activities. The Trump administration withdrew from the deal in 2018, seeing it as flawed.
Trump said in his speech Wednesday that Iran "will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon" as long as he is the president of the United States and called on other countries to join his efforts to negotiate a new deal.
"We must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place," he said.
The United States has imposed sanctions on Tehran in a bid to negotiate a tougher deal that would address concerns over Iran's nuclear activities, ballistic missile programs and other issues.
The confrontation between the two countries has also deepened over an allegedly Tehran-linked attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities in September last year.