Bennett Oghifo with agency report
President Donald Trump has said the US military was “cocked and loaded to retaliate” against Iran, but he changed his mind 10 minutes before planned strikes.
The BBC reports that attacks on three sites were planned in response to the shooting down of a US unmanned drone this week.
Mr. Trump said he had called off strikes after being told 150 people would die, according to the BBC report.
He tweeted: “10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.”
The late reversal was first reported by the New York Times on Thursday night. The newspaper said the operation had been “in its early stages” when Mr. Trump stood the US military down.
“I am in no hurry,” Mr. Trump said yesterday. “Our military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world.”
Mr. Trump said Iran had downed the drone on Monday, despite an earlier US military statement that the incident happened at 23:35 GMT on Wednesday (04:05 Iran time on Thursday).
Tehran said the unmanned US aircraft entered Iranian airspace early on Thursday morning. The US maintains it was shot down in international airspace.
Tensions have been escalating between the two countries, with the US recently blaming Iran for attacks on oil tankers operating in the region. Iran has announced it will soon exceed international agreed limits on its nuclear programme.
Last year, the US unilaterally pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear activities.
“Iran can NEVER have nuclear weapons,” Mr. Trump said in his tweets on the aborted strikes – also revealing that increased economic sanctions against Iran were “added last night”.
The US has now asked the United Nations Security Council to meet on Monday to discuss Iran, Reuters news agency reports.
The BBC said, in its initial report, The New York Times said that as late as 19:00 local time (23:00 GMT) on Thursday, US military and diplomatic officials had still expected the strikes to take place on agreed targets, including Iranian radar and missile batteries.
“Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired when word came to stand down,” the newspaper reported, citing an unnamed senior administration official.
The strikes had been set to take place just before dawn yesterday to minimise risk to the Iranian military or to civilians,” the newspaper added.
Tweeting yesterday, Mr. Trump said three sites had been targeted.
The Associated Press quoted a US official as saying the strikes had been recommended by the Pentagon and had been among options presented to senior administration officials.
According to the New York Times, top Pentagon officials warned a military response could result in a spiraling escalation with risks for US forces in the region.
The operation was called off after President Trump spent most of Thursday discussing Iran with his national security advisers and congressional leaders, AP reports.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton had pushed for a hardline stance, but congressional leaders urged caution, the agency said.
Separately, Reuters quoted two Iranian officials as saying Tehran had received a message from Mr. Trump through Oman overnight warning about an imminent US attack.
That report was later denied by a spokesman for Iran’s national Security Council, who said there was no truth to it and no message was sent.
An official warned that “any attack against Iran will have regional and international consequences.
“When you violate Iranian territorial space, then we defend,” Seyed Sajjadpour, one of Iran’s Deputy Foreign Ministers, told the BBC.
He also said it was clear that there were members of Donald Trump’s administration who were intent on overthrowing Iran’s government. In the US, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said America had no appetite for war with Iran, while the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, Joe Biden, called Mr. Trump’s Iran strategy a “self-inflicted disaster”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said a war would be a “catastrophe with unpredictable consequences”.