WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Saturday he will impose additional sanctions on Iran to keep its leaders from developing nuclear weapons but added that a U.S. military strike is still on the table.
A day after the president at the last minute abruptly scrapped a retaliatory strike on Iran after it shot down an unmanned U.S. drone, Trump said he would spend Saturday and Sunday at Camp David having meetings and conversations about Iran and its ambitions to become a nuclear power.
“We're moving forward with additional sanctions on Iran,” Trump told reporters before he boarded the Marine One helicopter on the White House South Lawn. He didn't elaborate, but added that they would be in addition to “about as strong as sanctions grouping as you can possibly have on any country.”
Asked if a military strike is still a possibility, Trump said, “We have a tremendously powerful military force in that area. It's always on the table until we get this solved.”
But Trump also offered the same deal to Iran’s leaders as he has to North Korea’s Kim Jung Un: Abandon the nuclear weapons programs and the United States will help boost their faltering economy.
“If Iran wants to become a wealthy nation again, become a prosperous nation — we’ll call it, ‘Let's make Iran great again,’” Trump said. “But they’re never going to do it if they think in five or six years they're going to have a nuclear weapon.”
Trump said he had received praise for deciding to scrub the attack on Iran because the estimated 150 Iranian deaths it might have caused would not be “proportionate” to the destruction of the drone.
Although he said Friday he pulled back 10 minutes before the planes were to launch -- only after he'd gotten the casualty estimates -- on Saturday he acknowledged he had estimates earlier in the day but had asked to know the potential death toll “as accurately as possible” before making the final decision.
“Everybody was saying I'm a warmonger. And now they say I'm a dove,” he said. “And I think I'm neither, if you want to know the truth. I'm a man with common sense.”
Trump also defended the planned immigration raids to round up noncitizens with court deportation orders as a step to reduce migration to the U.S. border The raids had been scheduled to start Sunday but Trump announced Saturday afternoon that he was postponing them at the request of the Democrats.
“These are people that came into the country illegally. They've been served, they've gone through a process, a process of the courts, and they have to be removed from the country,” he said. “It's having a very big effect on the border.”
And Trump denied allegations by New York writer E. Jean Carroll, who accused him in a book excerpt published Friday in New York magazine of sexually assaulting her more than two decades ago in a dressing room of an upscale Manhattan department store.
Carroll said she told two friends at the time, likely in 1995 or 1996, and the magazine published a photo of her shaking Trump’s hand. She is the 16th woman to accuse Trump of sexual misconduct or assault.
“It's a totally false accusation. I have absolutely no idea who she is,” Trump said.
“There's some picture where we're shaking hands, it looks like at event I have my coat on. I have my wife standing next to me,” he said. “But I have no idea who she is.”
The New York Times reported Saturday Trump chose not to go forward with the military strike because Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson told him that hawks among his advisers didn’t have his interest at heart and if he got into a war with Iran he would lose the election.
Pressed on reports that the final estimate came from the White House counsel, Trump agreed that the Pentagon sent it through the White House. “But it was given to me by a general,” he said.
Trump also acknowledged that he listened to the advice of a range of people, including his national security adviser John Bolton, though he didn’t mention Carlson.
“I have John Bolton, who I would definitely say is a hawk, and I have other people that are on the other side of the equation,” Trump said. “And ultimately, I make the decision.”