Trump: ‘Iran Made a Very Big Mistake’ by Shooting Down US Drone

June 20, 2019 Updated: June 20, 2019

Some 15 hours after Iran shot down an American surveillance drone, President Donald Trump issued a statement: “Iran made a very big mistake!”

Posted in a June 20 Twitter message, the sentence underscores the tension between the United States and the Islamic regime, which Trump has put under unprecedented economic pressure.

“This drone was in international waters, clearly. We have it all documented scientifically not just words. And they made a very bad mistake,” Trump told reporters on June 20 at the White House, where he was meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Asked if he’ll retaliate, Trump responded, “You’ll find out.”

He appeared to offer the Iranian leadership a way to distance itself from the incident.

“I would imagine it was a general or somebody that made a mistake in shooting that drone down,” he said. “I have a feeling it was a mistake made by somebody that shouldn’t have been doing what they did.”

He said the United States “will not stand for it,” but also noted no American was hurt and characterized the incident as “a new wrinkle … a new fly in the ointment.”

“I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth,” he said. “I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid who did it.”

The White House invited House and Senate leaders for a briefing with Trump on June 20 to discuss the tensions with Iran, two people “familiar with the invitation” told The Associated Press.

What Happened?

Iran shot down the MQ-4C Triton drone on June 20, local time, saying it was on a spy mission over its territory. Washington, however, said the aircraft wasn’t in Iranian territory.

“This was an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset in international airspace,” said Navy Capt. Bill Urban, U.S. Central Command spokesman, in a June 20 statement.

He confirmed the aircraft was downed “by an Iranian surface-to-air missile system … at approximately 11:35 p.m. GMT on June 19, 2019.”

The drone “had not violated Iranian airspace at any time during its mission,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, commander of the Air Forces Central Command.

“This attack is an attempt to disrupt our ability to monitor the area following recent threats to international shipping and free flow of commerce,” he said in an emailed statement. “Iranian reports that this aircraft was shot down over Iran are categorically false. The aircraft was over the Strait of Hormuz and fell into international waters.”

The drone was “operating at high-altitude” some 21 miles from the “nearest point of land on the Iranian coast” when it was hit by a “surface-to-air missile fired from a location in the vicinity of Goruk, Iran,” Guastella said.

The Strait of Hormuz is a crucial choke point between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, through which flows about a third of the world’s oil shipments. Iran has previously threatened to shut it down in response to U.S. sanctions.

“This dangerous and escalatory attack was irresponsible and occurred in the vicinity of established air corridors between Dubai, UAE, and Muscat Oman, possibly endangering innocent civilians,” said Guastella.

The downing of the drone was the latest in an escalating series of incidents since mid-May, including explosive strikes on six oil tankers.

Iran has denied involvement in any of the attacks, but the Trump administration on June 19 displayed limpet mine fragments it said came from an oil tanker damaged in June 13 attacks, saying the ordnance closely resembled mines publicly displayed in Iranian military parades.

Pressure

Trump has reimposed economic sanctions since he withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018.

The deal, negotiated by the Obama administration, aimed to postpone Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon by about a decade, in exchange for lifting economic sanctions and releasing some $120 billion in frozen Iranian assets.

Trump criticized the deal for being weak and incomplete. He has demanded that Iran stop enriching uranium, distributing ballistic missiles, developing nuclear-capable missiles, supporting terrorist groups and militias—including Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthis, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad—withdraw forces from Syria, stop threatening U.S. allies, stop cyberattacks and threats to international shipping, and more.

Iran has refused to negotiate, and is instead trying to convince the other signatories of the nuclear deal—Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany—to secure for Iran the deal’s economic benefits. As that effort has so far mostly failed, Iran has announced it will quickly start enriching uranium again, which would likely lead to its breaching the parameters of the deal.

Response

It’s not clear if the downing of the drone would prompt military repercussions from the United States.

Both Trump and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei previously said they don’t want war.

The State Department referred questions to the Pentagon.

Saudi Arabia, Washington’s main Gulf ally, said Iran has created a grave situation with its “aggressive behavior” and the kingdom is consulting other Gulf Arab states on next steps.

“When you interfere with international shipping, it has an impact on the supply of energy, it has an impact on the price of oil, which has an impact on the world economy. It essentially affects almost every person on the globe,” Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, told reporters in London.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters on June 20 that 20 lawmakers will receive a briefing to learn more about the incident.

“I think it’s a dangerous situation,” she said. “We have to be strong and strategic about how we protect our interests. We also cannot be reckless in what we do, so it will be interesting to see what they have to say.

“I don’t think the president wants to go to war. There’s no appetite for going to war in our country.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

Update: The article has been updated with further comments from President Donald Trump and Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, commander of the Air Forces Central Command. Information about Iran’s plans to start enriching uranium has been revised. Information was added from unnamed sources via The Associated Press.

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab
RECOMMENDED