WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Thursday he believed Iran’s attack on a U.S. military drone was unintentional and likely to have been orchestrated by a “loose and stupid” lower-ranking official, all as U.S. military leaders huddled at the White House to brief lawmakers and weigh a response to the escalating tensions between the nations.
The commander in chief, speaking to reporters at the White House before the start of a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, stopped short of answering how his administration planned to respond to the strike on an unmanned American drone over the Strait of Hormuz late Wednesday night, saying “we’ll see,” and “it’s all going to work out.”
“This is a new wrinkle,” Trump said in the Oval Office. “This is a new fly in the ointment … and this country will not stand for it, that I can tell you.”
Asked if he believed the strike was intentional, Trump said: "I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth. I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it …. it was a very foolish move, that I can tell you.”
The U.S.Central Command described the strike in a statement as “an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset that had not violated Iranian airspace at any time during its mission.”
“This attack is an attempt to disrupt our ability to monitor the area following recent threats to international shipping and free flow of commerce,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, commander of the U.S. Air Force Central Command, in a statement.
The Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway vital to oil tankers looking to move their supply from ports along the Persian Gulf, has recently been the site of multiple attacks on tankers, including on two Japanese oil tankers last week and four tankers in May. The . United States has blamed Iran for the attacks, which Tehran has denied.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in a tweet, claimed the American drone was in Iranian airspace when it was shot down and he accused the United States of “lying about international waters.”
“We don't seek war, but will zealously defend our skies, land & waters,” Zarif tweeted.
The competing U.S. and Iranian accounts follow months of increasing hostility between the two nations. Trump withdrew from the Obama-era Iran Nuclear Deal last year against the wishes of European allies belonging to the accord, who argued the U.S. withdrawal would lead to destabilization in the region.
The Trump administration has since rolled out a series of economic sanctions against Iran, which Iranian officials have described as “economic terrorism.” The Pentagon recently announced plans to deploy 1,000 additional U.S. troops to the Middle East, while Iran has announced plans to revive its production of nuclear materials.
Trump, when asked if his advisers, including hawkish National Security Adviser John Bolton, were pushing him to consider war, said, “Not at all.”
“I said I want to get out of these endless wars. I campaigned on that. I want to get out,” Trump said.
Congressional leaders were summoned to the White House’s Situation Room on Thursday afternoon for a 90-minute classified briefing on the state of affairs with Iran.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), speaking to reporters after the meeting, said Democrats on hand told Trump: "The Democratic position is that congressional approval must be required before funding any conflict in Iraq."
"The president may not intend to go to a war here, but we're worried that him and the administration may bumble into a war," Schumer said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement after the meeting, "It is essential that we remain fully engaged with our allies, recognize that we are not dealing with a responsible adversary and do everything in our power to de-escalate."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill, said he “would encourage forceful action to stop this behavior before it leads to a wider conflict."