President Donald J. Trump makes remarks to the press as he departs the White House for a weekend at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland in , Washington, DC, USA, 22 June 2019. (Photo: Mike Theiler / POOL, EPA-EFE)
President Donald Trump said Saturday that the United States will place additional sanctions on Iran in a bid to force Tehran to the bargaining table and warned that possible military action against Iran is still “on the table.”
Speaking to reporters before leaving on an Iran-focused working trip to Camp David, Trump said previous sanctions had squeezed Iran hard already and he will add more financial pressure.
“Iran right now is an economic mess,” he said on the South Lawn of the White House. “They are going through hell, the sanctions are hitting them hard.”
He vowed that “a lot more sanctions” will be enacted. But he did not elaborate on the nature of the additional measures.
After a week of crises in the Persian Gulf, with a purported attack by Iranian forces on oil tankers and the downing of an unmanned U.S. drone by elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces, Trump mixed conciliatory gestures toward Iran with warnings of harsh retaliation if Tehran’s leadership mount any more military attacks on U.S. interests.
While saying “many people” agree with his last-minute decision not to attack Iranian sites on Thursday in retaliation for Iran shooting down the U.S. drone, he said that did not mean he was turning soft.
“Now if the leaders of Iran behave badly, then it is going to be a very, very bad day for them, but hopefully they are smart, and hopefully they are for their people and not themselves,” he said. “And hopefully we can get Iran back onto an economic track that is fantastic.”
If they did, he said, Iran would become a wealthy nation, “which would be a wonderful thing — but if they are going to be foolish, that will never happen.”
Part of the olive branch toward Iran included praise that the Iranian forces that destroyed the drone did not attack a nearby U.S. military plane carrying, which he said was carrying 38 people.
“They didn’t shoot it down, and I think that was a very wise decision, and I think that is something we very much appreciate,” Trump said.
The president also said his national security adviser, John Bolton, was “definitely a hawk,” noting his support in the past for the invasion of Iraq by former President George W. Bush.
“John Bolton is doing a very good job, but he takes generally a tougher posture,” Trump said. “But I have others who don’t take that posture. But the only one that matters is me, because I will listen to everyone and I want people on both sides. Having people on both sides is very important.”
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Trump also criticized his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, for a multinational agreement with Iran that lifted some sanctions on Tehran while limiting Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.
The president said the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, which would have delayed Iran’s ability to build a weapon, was flawed, and claimed that it did not allow widespread international inspection of sites for producing nuclear material.
“Most primary sites you couldn’t go to, you couldn’t inspect,” he claimed. “We haven’t seen them in years.”
In April, a quarterly report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which handles the inspections, said its inspectors have had access to all the places in Iran they have needed to visit. That was also confirmed by IAEA chief Yukiya Amano.
Trump also said that any talks with Iran would bar outright their ability to make any nuclear weapons, not simply delay that possibility.
Allowing Iran to ever be able to make a nuclear weapon, Trump said, “is unacceptable.”
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“We will start over,” he said of any talks with Tehran. “We could have a deal with them very quickly if they want. it is up to them.
In holding out the benefits for Iran of a new deal, he echoed appeals he has made to North Korea for reaping economic rewards through cooperation.
“If Iran wants to become a wealthy national again, become a prosperous nation, call it, “let’s make Iran great again.”
In that scenario, the president said, “I am going to be their best friend.”
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