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Donald Trump softens stance against Iran after US drone shot down

But the president warned military action against the country is still an option.

President Donald Trump said American could become Iran’s best friend, if it ends its nuclear weapons ambitions (Susan Walsh/AP)
President Donald Trump said American could become Iran’s best friend, if it ends its nuclear weapons ambitions (Susan Walsh/AP)

President Donald Trump has warned military action against Iran is still an option for its downing of an unmanned US military aircraft, but amid heightened tensions he dangled the prospect of eventually becoming an unlikely “best friend” of America’s long-term Middle Eastern adversary.

Mr Trump also said “we very much appreciate” that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard chose not to target a US spy plane carrying more than 30 people.

His softer tone marked a stark contrast to the anti-Iran rhetoric he employed throughout the presidential campaign and his presidency, including his use of punishing economic sanctions in an attempt to pressure Iran to give up its quest to build nuclear weapons.

As he left the White House on Saturday for a weekend at his Camp David retreat, he said: “The fact is we’re not going to have Iran have a nuclear weapon.

“And when they agree to that, they are going to have a wealthy country, they’re going to be so happy and I’m going to be their best friend.

“I hope that happens. I hope that happens, but it may not.”

Mr Trump later said Iran will be hit with unspecified new sanctions on Monday.

Another event earlier this week put a different cast on Mr Trump’s more optimistic rhetoric.

US military cyber forces launched a strike against Iranian military computer systems on Thursday in response to the loss of the military drone.

US officials told The Associated Press that the cyberattacks, which disabled Iranian computer systems that controlled its rocket and missile launchers, had been authorised by Mr Trump.

On Saturday, days after he said it was “hard to believe” the shoot-down of the US drone was intentional, Mr Trump did an about-face and accused Iran of “knowingly” targeting the plane.

And he reiterated that he aborted a planned military strike set for Thursday after learning approximately 150 Iranians would be killed.

“Everybody was saying I’m a war monger. And now they say I’m a dove. And I think I’m neither, if you want to know the truth,” he told reporters.

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Mr Trump said Iran faces further sanctions (Susan Walsh/AP)

“I’m a man with common sense. And that’s what we need in this country, is common sense. But I didn’t like the idea of them knowingly shooting down an unmanned drone and then we kill 150 people.”

He added: “I don’t want to kill 150 Iranians. I don’t want to kill 150 of anything or anybody unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

His comments came as Iran summoned the United Arab Emirates’ top envoy to Tehran to protest against the neighbouring Arab nation’s decision to allow the US to use one of its military bases to launch the drone that Iran says entered its airspace.

Iran issued a “strong protest” to the UAE diplomat, saying Tehran does not tolerate the facilitation of foreign forces that violate its territory, a report by the official IRNA news agency said.

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A member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard inspects the remains of the drone (Meghdad Madadi/AP)

The US said its RQ-4A Global Hawk was shot down on Thursday over international waters in the Strait of Hormuz, not inside Iranian airspace.

The shoot-down by elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces marked the first time the Islamic Republic directly attacked the American military amid mounting tensions over Tehran’s unravelling nuclear deal with world powers.

The incident immediately heightened the crisis already gripping the wider region, which is rooted in Mr Trump withdrawing the US a year ago from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal and imposing crippling new sanctions on Tehran.

Recently, Iran quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium to be on pace to break one of the deal’s terms by next week, while threatening to raise enrichment closer to weapons-grade levels on July 7 if Europe does not offer it a new deal.

PA

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