WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump said yesterday he had aborted a military strike on Iran because such a response to Teheran's downing of an unmanned US surveillance drone would have caused a disproportionate loss of life.
In a series of early-morning tweets, Mr Trump said US economic sanctions against Iran were having an impact, and more were imposed late on Thursday following the destruction of the US drone by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.
Mr Trump said United States forces were "cocked and loaded", and that the plan was to hit three different sites in response to the drone's downing. But he said he called it off when he was told 150 people would have died.
"Ten minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. I am in no hurry, our military is rebuilt, new and ready to go, by far the best in the world," Mr Trump tweeted.
Earlier yesterday, Iranian officials told Reuters that Teheran had received a message from Mr Trump warning that a US attack on Iran was imminent, but saying that he was against war and wanted talks on a range of issues.
News of that message, delivered through Oman overnight, came shortly after The New York Times reported that the US President had called off air strikes targeting Iranian radar and missile batteries at the last minute.
"In his message, Trump said he was against any war with Iran and wanted to talk to Teheran about various issues," one of the officials told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"He gave a short period of time to get our response, but Iran's immediate response was that it is up to Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei to decide about this issue."
A second Iranian official said: "We made it clear that the leader is against any talks, but the message will be conveyed to him to make a decision... However, we told the Omani official that any attack against Iran will have regional and international consequences."
Ayatollah Khamenei has the last say on all state matters, and has ruled out any talks with Washington while Teheran is under sanctions.
Iran shot down the drone after weeks of festering tension amid a spate of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf region. Iran has denied US and Saudi accusations that it was behind the tanker attacks.
In his initial response on Thursday, Mr Trump said he was not eager to escalate a stand-off with Iran over its nuclear and ballistic missile activities and support for proxies in various Middle East conflicts.
The drone's destruction aggravated global fears of direct military confrontation between the longtime foes and exacerbated tensions in the Gulf, a critical artery for global oil supplies.
Oil prices rose a further US$1 per barrel to above US$65.50 yesterday due to worries about possible disruptions to crude exports from the Gulf.
The New York Times reported that the planned strikes were set for early in the day to minimise risk to the Iranian military or to civilians.
Iran said it had shot down the unarmed Global Hawk surveillance drone while it was spying over part of its coastal territory, and state television yesterday showed what it said were retrieved sections of the aircraft. Washington said the drone was downed over international airspace in the Strait of Hormuz.
An Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander said yesterday that a manned US military P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance jet accompanied the drone into Iranian airspace, but Teheran refrained from shooting it down as well, according to the Tasnim news agency.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called on Washington to weigh the possible consequences of conflict, and said the Times report showed the situation was extremely dangerous.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters yesterday: "We are concerned about the situation and support diplomatic negotiations, a political solution for a very tense situation."
Some global airlines rerouted flights to avoid Iran-controlled airspace over the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman after the US Federal Aviation Administration barred American carriers from the region until further notice.
Tensions with Iran have increased since Mr Trump's withdrawal last year from the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers.
The US President has denounced the deal as flawed, and imposed fresh sanctions to throttle Iran's vital oil trade.
Iran retaliated earlier this week by threatening to breach limits on its uranium enrichment programme set by the nuclear deal.