Here’s what you need to know:
- President Trump says the U.S. is ‘ready to embrace peace’ after Iran’s retaliatory strikes.
- Iran says it does not seek war after firing missiles at bases in Iraq that house Americans.
- With the conflict playing out on Iraqi soil, a cleric calls for de-escalation.
- Senate leader urged Trump to exercise ‘restraint’ as he decided how to respond.
- Ayatollah calls missile strikes a ‘slap in the face’ to the U.S.
President Trump says the U.S. is ‘ready to embrace peace’ after Iran’s retaliatory strikes.
President Trump announced new economic sanctions against Tehran but did not call for more military action against the Iranians during his first formal public remarks about the conflict since ordering the drone strike of Iran’s most important general last week.
“The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it,” Mr. Trump said.
Flanked by Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and other military officials, the president did little to explain his reasoning for ordering the death of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani.
“He should have been terminated long ago,” Mr. Trump said.
Early Wednesday, the Iranians retaliated by launching more than 20 ballistic missiles at two military bases in Iraq where Americans are posted. Mr. Trump said no Americans were killed.
The administration has cited vague intelligence threats against American interests to explain the decision to kill the Iranian general. But many have found its strategy and goals for Iran was conflicting and confusing. Mr. Trump was forced to walk back threats to target Iranian cultural sites after Mr. Esper made clear that such actions would be a war crime.
“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,” Mr. Trump said Wednesday.
The United States already has crippling sanctions in place against Iran. In June, Mr. Trump announced a new round in response to Tehran’s actions against tankers in international waters. And in the spring of 2019, the United States cut off revenues from Iranian oil experts, hitting directly at the heart of the country’s economy.
Iran says it does not seek war after firing missiles at bases in Iraq that house Americans.
Indications suggest that the United States and Iran have stepped back from the edge of a war.
The Iranian foreign minister said on Wednesday that his country had “concluded” its attacks on American forces and did “not seek escalation or war” after firing more than 20 ballistic missiles at two military bases in Iraq where United States troops are stationed.
The minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, posted the remarks on Twitter after Iran had conducted the strikes in response to the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, a leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Senior Iraqi defense officials who work with the United States command said that no Americans or Iraqis had been killed in the attacks. In a short statement released on Wednesday morning, the Joint Command in Baghdad, which includes both Iraqi troops and soldiers from the international coalition, said that neither force “recorded any losses.”
Without American deaths from Iran’s missiles, Mr. Trump may not have felt the same pressure to punch back that he would have confronted with high troop casualties.
In a briefing in Washington, an official said that the Pentagon “had no confirmation” that any Americans had been killed. Australia, Britain, Denmark, Poland and Sweden, whose troops are stationed in Iraq alongside American forces, also said that none of their service members had been killed.
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Some Iranian outlets had a different version of events. Fars, a news agency that is associated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, said that “at least 80 U.S. troops” had been killed in the strikes, citing an unnamed senior official from the military group.
General Suleimani was killed on Friday in Baghdad in a drone strike ordered by President Trump. American officials said the general, who led the foreign expeditionary Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards, had been planning imminent attacks on American interests. One American official has since described that intelligence as thin.
“Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense.” Mr. Zarif wrote in his Twitter message, adding, “We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.”
Although the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said on Wednesday that his country had concluded its attack, officials around the region cautioned that the statement did not mean Tehran was done maneuvering, and Iran’s leadership has reiterated its goal of forcing United States troops out of the Middle East.
The missiles, launched from Iran, struck Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq and another in Erbil, in the north of the country.
Iranian news media reported that the attacks had begun hours after the remains of General Suleimani were returned to his hometown in Iran for burial. President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday wrote on Twitter that the general “fought heroically” against a number of jihadist groups and that Europe was safer because of his efforts.
“Our final answer to his assassination will be to kick all US forces out of the region,” he posted.
With the conflict playing out on Iraqi soil, a cleric calls for de-escalation.
An influential Iraqi Shiite cleric, Moktada al-Sadr, said on Wednesday that the crisis Iraq was experiencing had ended and called on militia groups not to carry out attacks, Reuters reported.
Mr. al-Sadr said Iraq should still seek to expel foreign troops, but appeared to be laying his hopes in a new Iraqi government. One capable of protecting the nation’s sovereignty and independence should be formed in the next 15 days, he said.
“I call on the Iraqi factions to be deliberate, patient, and not to start military actions, and to shut down the extremist voices of some rogue elements until all political, parliamentary and international methods have been exhausted,” he said.
Mr. al-Sadr’s remarks came after Iranian and American officials made statements attempting to de-escalate the conflict.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi of Iraq also released a statement on Wednesday saying his government would “continue its intense attempts to prevent escalation” in the simmering conflict.
After Iranian missiles struck bases housing American troops in Iraq on Wednesday, Mr. Abdul Mahdi objected to the violation of his country’s sovereignty. His comments echoed remarks he made after an American drone strike killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani on Friday, and after the United States struck an Iranian-backed militia in western Iraq in late December.
Two bases housing American troops were targeted by Iran in Wednesday’s missile strikes: Al Asad Air Base in Anbar Province and another installation in Erbil, in the Kurdistan region.
In December 2018, President Trump visited American military forces at the Asad base. It was his first trip to troops stationed in a combat zone.
The base is an Iraqi installation that has long been a hub for American military operations in western Iraq, and other international coalition troops have also been stationed there in recent years.
The base in Erbil has been a Special Operations hub, home to hundreds of troops, logistics personnel and intelligence specialists. Transport aircraft, gunships and reconnaissance planes have used the airport as an anchor point for operations in both northern Iraq and deep into Syria.
Senate leader urged Trump to exercise ‘restraint’ as he decided how to respond.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate’s Republican leader, said he spoke to President Trump on Wednesday night after Iran’s missile strikes and urged the administration to exercise “restraint.”
Speaking on the Senate floor, Mr. McConnell expressed gratitude for what he called the president’s “patience and prudence” in deliberating about the missile strikes, which damaged two Iraqi bases where Americans are stationed.
“As a superpower, we have the capacity to exercise restraint and to respond at a time and place of our choosing, if need be,” Mr. McConnell said. “I believe the president wants to avoid conflict or needless loss of life. But he’s rightly prepared to protect American lives and interests.”
But even as he called for restraint, Mr. McConnell warned Iran not to take further military action against the United States.
“I hope Iran’s leaders do not miscalculate by questioning our collective will in launching further attacks,” he said, adding that Iran should never question “our national will.”
After Mr. Trump’s remarks, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a close ally of the president, said Mr. Trump had briefed him on his state of thinking Tuesday night, and called the speech “excellent.”
“I said to the Iranian leadership and people, ‘he’s giving you a pathway to peace, I hope you’ll take it,’” Mr. Graham told reporters on Wednesday.
But while acknowledging that Mr. Trump’s speech may have pulled American forces off the “path to conventional war,” Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, warned that “it also doesn’t seem as if we are truly de-escalating,” citing the new set of sanctions the president announced for Iran.
“Remember, Iran started their provocations in response to our unilateral set of sanctions,” Mr. Murphy said. “Time will tell, but I’m not sure that this is going to be effective in de-escalating the crisis.”
Ayatollah calls missile strikes a ‘slap in the face’ to the U.S.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, said on Wednesday that his military had dealt the United States a “slap in the face” when it unleashed missiles at American forces stationed in Iraq.
In a televised address from the holy city of Qom, Ayatollah Khamenei said incremental military actions against the United States alone were “not sufficient.”
“What matters is that the presence of America, which is a source of corruption in this region, should come to an end,” he said to a hall filled with imams and others.
“Death to America!,” the crowd chanted. “Death to Israel!”
Ayatollah Khamenei said that “sitting at the negotiating table” with American envoys would open the door to greater American intervention in the region and that such negotiations therefore must “come to an end.”
“This region,” he said, “does not accept the U.S. presence.”
The ayatollah provided no additional details about the strikes on Tuesday night, in which, American allies say, no one was killed.
He called Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, considered to have been the second-most powerful man in Iran, a “dear friend to us,” and praised him as a “great, brave warrior.”
Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, in his meeting with the council of ministers on Wednesday morning, detailed his country’s larger regional goal in comments directed at the Americans. “You cut off the hand of Qassim Suleimani from his body and we will cut off your feet from the region,” he said.
A missile strike, a plane crash and then …. an earthquake
A 4.5-magnitude earthquake struck southern Iran just before dawn on Wednesday, the United States Geological Survey reported, in the same region as the troubled Bushehr nuclear power plant.
No casualties were immediately reported, though rescue teams were working at the site, the state-run IRNA news agency said.
The quake was reported about 30 miles from the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear plant, long seen as a safety concern by Western countries. It has been plagued by construction delays and technical problems, and is on an active fault line.
Two more reactors are planned for the same site. Construction on the first of those began in November.
The quake struck just hours after Iran launched missiles at United States forces based in Iraq and an airliner carrying more than 170 people crashed after takeoff from Tehran, killing everyone on board.
At least 170 people died when a passenger jet crashed near Tehran.
A Ukrainian Boeing 737-800 carrying at least 170 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran, killing everyone aboard, according to the Iranian state news media.
The circumstances of the crash were unclear. The Iranian outlets cited technical problems with the plane, which was bound for Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. The crash came at a tense time in Iran, as conflict with the United States had the country on edge.
Photographs posted by Iranian news organizations showed rescuers examining smoking rubble in a field. The state-run Iranian Students’ News Agency shared a video it said showed the predawn crash, with a distant light descending in the distance before a bright burst filled the sky upon impact.
The plane, Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, departed Imam Khomeini International Airport, which serves Tehran, at 6:12 a.m. on Wednesday and lost contact at 6:14 a.m., according to a flight tracker.
“We are aware of the media reports out of Iran and we are gathering more information,” Boeing said in a statement.
Boeing has been under intense scrutiny after the crash of two 737 Max jets in less than five months, which together killed 346 people. The Max has been grounded worldwide since March, creating a crisis for the company and leading to the firing of the chief executive.
The crash on Wednesday could also touch a nerve politically in Ukraine as the airline operating the flight, Ukraine International Airlines, is partly owned through a network of offshore companies by Ihor Kolomoisky, an oligarch with close ties to President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The Ukrainian president expressed his condolences to the relatives and friends of the passengers and crew. Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said the victims included 82 Iranians and 11 Ukrainians, including nine Ukrainian crew members. Sixty-three passengers were from Canada, 10 from Sweden, four from Afghanistan, three from Britain and three from Germany, he said.
Airlines divert flights in airspace over Iran and Iraq.
A number of international airlines announced that flights would be avoiding the airspace over Iran and Iraq after reports of strikes on bases housing American troops in Iraq. The moves also came after the apparently unrelated news of the crash of a Ukrainian passenger plane in the early hours of Wednesday near Tehran. Other airlines have canceled flights to the region.
On Tuesday, the F.A.A. barred American airliners from flying over Iran, citing the risk of commercial planes being mistaken for military aircraft.
The Dutch airline KLM said on Wednesday that it was no longer flying in Iraqi or Iranian airspace “until further notice,” citing security risks. Air France and the Australian carrier Qantas took similar measures, news agencies reported.
The German carrier Lufthansa also announced the temporary cancellation of a daily flight between Frankfurt and Tehran because of the security situation, according to Reuters, but later said it would restart that route on Thursday.
European leaders denounce Iran’s rocket attacks.
The European Union on Wednesday condemned Iran’s rocket attacks on Iraqi bases housing American and coalition troops, urging an end to the “spiral of violence” that has gripped the region. The bloc also urged the continuation of dialogue to calm tensions in the Middle East after an American drone strike in Iraq that killed an Iranian commander on Friday.
“The latest rocket attacks on air bases in Iraq used by U.S. and coalition forces, among them European forces, are yet another example of escalation and increased confrontation,” said the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell Fontelles. “It is in no one’s interest to turn up the spiral of violence even further.”
The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said that “the use of weapons must stop now to give space to dialogue,’’ adding, “we all are called upon to do everything possible to rekindle talks and there cannot be enough of that.’’
She also said that the bloc remained committed to trying to preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and reached out to all signatories, including Russia and China. The call to save the deal comes despite Tehran’s phased retreat from its obligations under the agreement after President Trump abandoned it in 2018 and reimposed harsh economic sanctions.
Mr. Borrell has invited the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to Brussels, and European foreign ministers will meet there on Friday to discuss the Iran crisis.
The two European Union officials spoke before Ms. von der Leyen flew to London for talks on Brexit with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain. Mr. Johnson, speaking in the British Parliament on Wednesday, echoed the calls for calm but said that the Iranian general killed by the United States last week had “blood on his hands.”
“Iran should not repeat these reckless and dangerous attacks but must instead pursue urgent de-escalation,” Mr. Johnson said.
The French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, also condemned the strikes and said that he was in touch with “all of the parties involved to encourage restraint and responsibility.”
“The cycle of violence must stop,” Mr. Le Drian said in a statement on Wednesday. “France for its part remains determined to work toward calming tensions.”
Reporting was contributed by Alissa J. Rubin, Peter Baker, Michael D. Shear, Eileen Sullivan, Falih Hassan, Megan Specia, Ben Hubbard, Steven Erlanger, Russell Goldman, Farnaz Fassihi, Daniel Victor, Anton Troianovski, Andrew Kramer, Eric Schmitt and Vivian Yee.