Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 9 April 2020

Trump vows more sanctions on Iran and appeals for Nato to play bigger role

Former head of Centcom told 'The National' that Nato could have a broader mission in Iraq

In his address to the nation, Mr Trump said he hoped Iran and the US would "work together on" tackling ISIS. AP
In his address to the nation, Mr Trump said he hoped Iran and the US would "work together on" tackling ISIS. AP

US President Donald Trump in a speech on Wednesday reinforced the tough policies of his administration toward Iran, vowing more sanctions and asserting that the regime there is “standing down” in the aftermath of the airstrike that killed Qassem Suleimani.

Donald Trump, speaking almost 18 hours after the Iranian attack on two bases in Iraq that host US troops, appeared defiant and said the outcome should be welcome news for the American people.

Iran appeared to be “standing down”, Mr Trump said as he reaffirmed that US missile tracking systems worked in Iraq, there were no casualties and only minimal damage to the bases. The Iraqi prime minister's office confirmed on Wednesday, however, that they notified the US military of “impending strikes …very short time” before they occurred.

"Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world," he said from the White House, flanked by his top officials and military figures.

The US President struck a defiant tone, as he vowed “powerful” new sanctions on Iran. "Our rockets are lethal and fast. The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it. We do not want to use it,” Mr Trump said. "American strength, both military and economic, is the best deterrent," he added.

The President called upon the signatories of the 2015 deal with Iran enacted to limit Tehran’s nuclear prowess - that Mr Trump has taken the US out of – to withdraw from the “remnants” of the pact and seek a new agreement. “As long as I'm president of the United States Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon,” he said.

He also defended the US assassination last Thursday of Iran’s military commander Qassem Suleimani, saying the Quds Force general was a “ruthless terrorist” whose hands were “drenched” in Iranian and US blood.

But in an apparently conciliatory gesture, Mr Trump said the destruction of ISIS was “good” for Iran and that Washington and Tehran should work together on “shared priorities”.

He didn’t threaten Iran with military action but nonetheless was keen to emphasise the might of US forces.

In another turn as well, Mr Trump, who has been highly critical of Nato, called on the transatlantic alliance to “get more involved in the Middle East”. Nato yesterday said some troops “both inside and outside of Iraq” would be moved following the strike on Suleimani. He said he will be calling the Nato leadership tonight.

Retired General Joseph Votel, who served as the former head of the Central Command and is now a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, called Mr Trump’s reference to Nato “a step in the right direction” especially when it comes to Iraq. “Nato has had a small contingent on ground that is focused on working with Iraqi military,” Mr Votel told The National in a conference call organised by the Institute. “Looking on how we expand Nato's role on ground, to play bigger role in addressing some of the tension [beyond defeat of ISIS mission] …. is a step in right direction.”

Ryan Bohl, a Middle East analyst at Stratfor, saw Mr Trump’s statement as one that aims to “strong-arm Iran back to diplomacy, and new sanctions are designed to add to that pressure.” This pressure could trigger “another cycle of harassment, escalation, and retaliation,” Mr Bohl told The National.

As the situation stands now, the US has achieved “an unstable deterrence …America will respond to lost lives, but it will not respond to lost equipment or even necessarily military provocations,” the expert said.

Updated: January 9, 2020 08:10 PM

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