Trump: Iran appears to be standing down

US President Donald Trump says Iran has backed off after days of building tension between the two counties sparked fears of a new war.

"Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world," Mr Trump said in Washington.

Surrounded by his national defence team, including Vice President Mike Pence, Defence Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the president also announced new sanctions against the regime that would be in place until Tehran "changes its behaviour".

"As long as I am president of the United States, Iran will never be able to have a nuclear weapon," he said at the White House.

"Iran is the leading sponsor of terrorism and their pursuit of nuclear weapons threatens the civilised world."

US President Donald Trump addresses the nation from the White House on the ballistic missile strike that Iran launched against Iraqi air bases housing US troops. Picture: AP
US President Donald Trump addresses the nation from the White House on the ballistic missile strike that Iran launched against Iraqi air bases housing US troops. Picture: AP

The remarks came hours after Tehran launched an historic missile strike against American interests in Iraq.

"I am pleased to inform you the American people should be extremely grateful and happy no Americans were harmed in last night's attack by the Iranian regime," Mr Trump said.

"We suffered no casualties, all of our soldiers are safe and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases."

Iran's revenge strike followed days of mass mourning that saw about 40 Iranians killed in a stampede before the funeral of Major General Qassem Soleimani, who was ordered killed by Mr Trump last Friday.

The rocket attack on a convoy carrying Soleimani and a senior Iraq militia leader spurred Iran to walk away from the 2015 nuclear deal that limited its ability to develop atomic weapons, led to the deployment of 3500 additional US troops to the region and roiled financial markets.

 

Mr Trump called on the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia and China to withdraw from the remnants of the nuclear deal.

"We must all work together to making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place."

Mr Trump said Soleimani, the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, was "the world's top terrorist".

"As the head of the Quds Force, Soleimani was personally responsible for some of the absolute worst atrocities," he said.

This included establishing Hezbollah and other terrorist armies and the spread of roadside bombs in Iraq.

"Soleimani's hands were drenched in both American and Iranian blood," he said.

"He should have been terminated long ago."

 

Missiles were fired at air base housing US troops. Picture: Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting/AP
Missiles were fired at air base housing US troops. Picture: Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting/AP

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Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made clear that Iran's ballistic missile strikes were in revenge for the US killing of Soleimani.

"Last night they received a slap," Khamenei said in a speech after the missile strikes. "These military actions are not sufficient (for revenge). What is important is that the corrupt presence of America in this region comes to an end."

Despite the heightened rhetoric, there were some indications that there would not be more immediate retaliation on either side.

Early reports indicated none of the 300 Australian troops in Iraq or any Americans were hurt in the strikes, leading to speculation Iran had launched the attacks as a messaging measure.

Despite assertions of no casualties, Iran's state news agency reported 80 soldiers were killed and 200 wounded.

There were reports of Iraqi injuries.

 

 

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif indicated the Iraq attacks, which were significant because they were fired from Iranian territory rather than through the proxy militias with which Tehran usually targets the US, were "proportionate measures" that would stand as the regime's retaliation.

"We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression," Mr Zarif said.

 

Three hours after the strikes, a Ukrainian International Airlines plane crashed at Imam Khomeini Airport near Tehran, killing 176 people on board.

The 737-800 was headed to the Ukrainian capital Kiev when it took off at 6.12am local time (1.12pm AEDT).

Preliminary reports suggested the plane experienced technical difficulties and the incident was not related to the rocket attacks.

The missile assaults on two bases housing allied forces sparked widespread fears that the past five days of building brinkmanship would lead to open conflict.

 

 

Friday's rocket attack on a convoy carrying Soleimani and a senior Iraq militia leader spurred Iran to walk away from the 2015 nuclear deal - that limited its ability to develop atomic weapons - led to the deployment of 3500 additional US troops to the region and threatened a spike in petrol prices.

Iraq's parliament also voted to boot out US troops after their 17 years on the ground there, and a draft letter incorrectly sent to its government from America's military leadership in the region saying Washington was withdrawing its presence created broad confusion about the future of the allied presence there.

An unconfirmed image of the Iran strike.
An unconfirmed image of the Iran strike.

The Pentagon described the letter as a mistake and Mr Trump is pressuring Iraq to reconsider the expulsion under threat of sanctions.

The rocket strike that killed Soleimani outside Baghdad airport also placed significant domestic pressure on Iranian and US leadership, with Mr Trump accused of trying to use the conflict to distract attention from his looming impeachment trial and Tehran seeking to placate a population hungry for revenge.

The conflict presents one of the biggest foreign policy tests for Mr Trump, who campaigned and has led on a platform of ending US involvement in "endless wars" in the Middle East.

While Mr Trump limited his reaction to a single tweet, one of his closest allies took to cable TV to indicate the president was willing to step back from the threatening posture he has struck in recent days.

 

"He feels he's got a strong hand," Senator Lindsay Graham said on Fox News after speaking with Mr Trump.

"He doesn't seek escalation. He is not going to tolerate provocation. He's going to be thinking tonight along the lines to restore deterrence and how to change their behaviour."

Allied troops including Australians were housed in the targeted bases, Erbil in northern Iraq and Al-Assad base in western Iraq, which was first used by American forces after the 2003 invasion of Iraq that removed dictator Saddam Hussein.

American troops have more recently been stationed there in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

 

 

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About 10 missiles with a 300km range hit the al-Assad base, while one struck the Erbil base, 40km from Baghdad, according to a defence official who said a further four missiles failed.

In contrast, Iraq's military released a statement saying 22 missiles were fired, including five targeting Erbil and 17 directed at Al Assad, two of which failed.

There were also unconfirmed reports Iran warned the US shortly before the strike, giving troops time to take shelter.

Soleimani was a US-designated terrorist but also a revered figure in Iran, where for decades he headed the shadowy Quds Force, Tehran's security operation likened to a cross between the CIA and Special Forces.

Mr Trump has repeatedly defended taking him out, saying he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of US soldiers in Iraq and thousands of people across the Middle East.

His death came after days of tension in Baghdad including attacks on the US Embassy in Baghdad which the Pentagon said Soleimani had orchestrated.


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