WASHINGTON — The president addressed the nation Wednesday from the White House after more than a dozen Iranian missiles struck Iraqi military bases housing U.S. and coalition troops late Tuesday night.
President Donald Trump said no Iraqis or Americans were hurt in the attacks, and signaled the United States is open to a de-escalation of tensions with Iran and a new round of negotiations.
The attacks were Iran’s response to the U.S.-ordered airstrike that killed its top military leader Qasem Soleimani late last week. The Defense Department said the strike was a preventive action to stop “imminent” plans to attack U.S. personnel in the region.
Here are the most important takeaways from Trump’s speech:
U.S. will introduce new sanctions on Iran
Trump announced Wednesday that a new wave of sanctions would be levied against Iran, but didn’t offer specifics. He said Iran would not be permitted to have a nuclear weapon.
“As we continue to evaluate options in response to Iranian aggression, the United States will immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime,” Trump said. “These powerful sanctions will remain until Iran changes its behavior.”
He accused Iran of a “terror spree” in other Middle East countries, and said, “Iran has seized ships in international waters, fired an unprovoked strike on Saudi Arabia and shot down two U.S. drones.”
Iran has in the past demanded a lifting of U.S. sanctions.
‘Ready to embrace peace with all who seek it’
The president also signaled he was open to negotiations with Iran and backing away from an escalation of the conflict. He has made an offer for negotiations in the past after he pulled out of the multi-nation nuclear agreement in 2018. Iran has said in response that it already negotiated a deal that the U.S. abandoned.
“Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world,” Trump said.
Trump said that Iran must change its behavior and hoped that U.S. economic and military deterrents will motivate Iran to cooperate. He touted the weight of the U.S. military: “Our missiles are big, powerful, accurate, lethal, and fast. Under construction are many hypersonic missiles.”
“The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it,” he continued. “We do not want to use it. American strength, both military and economic, is the best deterrent.”
Speaking to Iran’s leaders, Trump said, “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 United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it.”
Urged nations to pull out of nuclear agreement
Trump called on the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia and China to break off from the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal in order to negotiate a new one.
“The civilized world must send a clear and unified message to the Iranian regime: Your campaign of terror, murder, mayhem will not be tolerated any longer. It will not be allowed to go forward.”
He repeatedly criticized the deal during his presidential race and announced in 2018 that the U.S. was pulling out of the agreement, and he also implemented what he calls a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran to curb its aggression.
“We must also make a deal that allows Iran to thrive and prosper, and take advantage of its enormous untapped potential. Iran can be a great country,” Trump said.
Blamed missile attack funding on Obama administration
Trump linked U.S.-Iran tensions as well as Iran-backed aggression to the deal negotiated during former President Barack Obama’s term.
“Iran’s hostilities substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2013, and they were given $150 billion, not to mention $1.8 billion in cash. Instead of saying ‘thank you’ to the United States, they chanted ‘death to America,'” Trump said Wednesday.
Trump has previously suggested that the Obama administration gave Iran billions in monetary aid. But the $150 billion Iran received was not a gift. After the nuclear agreement was signed, Iran was allowed to access its own previously frozen assets which included the $150 billion, and additionally was paid back for a longstanding claim against the U.S, which accounted for the $1.8 billion.
But major provocations occurred after Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement, including the downing of a U.S. drone.
Trump even suggested that funding for the missile attacks launched by Iran on Tuesday were funded by the same money.
“The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration,” he said.
Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice pushed back on Trump’s claim in an interview with MSNBC: “The fact is, that’s another lie,” she said.
“Iran has had these sophisticated missiles, they’ve been developing their capacity for many, many years,” she continued. “To say that that money funded the attack on our personnel and on our base is just the most disgraceful kind of lie.”
Will ask NATO for more involvement in Middle East
Trump has complained in the past about what he sees as a disproportionate contribution from the United States in paying for military defense for allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. On Wednesday, he said he would request more contribution from NATO.
“Today, I am going to ask NATO to become much more involved in the Middle East process,” Trump also said. ” Over the last three years, under my leadership, our economy is stronger than ever before and America has achieved energy independence. These historic accomplishments changed our strategic priorities.”
“The American military has been completely rebuilt under my administration, at a cost of $2.5 trillion,” he added, a figure also disputed by experts.
Contributing: Courtney Subramanian, John Fritze, Michael Collins, Tom Vanden Brook