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Trump backs down from military confrontation with Iran

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US President Donald Trump’s statement overnight confirming the US would not take further military action in response to Iran’s missile strikes on American bases in Iraq eases regional tensions for now after days of escalating tensions, saying Tehran appeared to be standing down following missile attacks on two Iraqi bases hosting US and coalition troops.

“Iran appears to be standing down, which a good thing is for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world,” Trump said, “No American or Iraqi lives were lost because of the precautions taken, the dispersal of forces, and an early warning system that worked very well.”

Fortunately for the region, Trump’s overnight statement indicates he is prepared to leave matters at that. In addition, there is no evidence yet the crash of a Ukrainian airliner shortly after take-off from Tehran’s airport is linked to the missile strikes (though investigations are continuing).

That means that, for now, the risk of escalating tit-for-tat strikes or something closer to all-out war between the US and Iran has receded. Most in the region will now breathe easier. This is especially true for Iraq, which could have been drawn into a broader conflict as there are still about 5,000 US troops stationed there.

In hitting back at the US over last week’s assassination of General Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Iran was clearly pulling its punches.

The missiles it fired at US bases near Baghdad and in northern Iraq produced no US casualties and appear to have done little damage to the bases. Media reports quoting Western intelligence sources claim that some of the missiles were aimed deliberately short of the target. It’s clear the Iranian regime did not want to give Trump an excuse for retaliation.

Moreover, the regime has described its missile attacks as a “proportionate” response to Soleimani’s killing – which it obviously was not. It also said its response was “concluded”, implying it would not launch further strikes against the US.

In addition, according to several media reports, Iranian officials have claimed to their domestic audience the strikes killed more than 80 US military personnel, but the US is hiding the real toll. Such statements are aimed at quelling popular pressure for a more robust response.

The US says it is “ready to engage without preconditions in serious negotiations” with Iran following the countries’ exchange of hostilities.

In a letter to the UN Security Council, US ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft said the US was ready to negotiate “with the goal of preventing further endangerment of international peace and security or escalation by the Iranian regime”.

The killing of Soleimani was justified, the letter argued, under Article 51 of the UN Charter, which requires states to “immediately report” to the Security Council any measures taken in exercising the right of self-defence.

The US would take additional action “as necessary” in the Middle East to protect its personnel and interests, the letter added. But Iran’s UN ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi said the US offer of talks was “unbelievable” while the US continued to enforce harsh economic sanctions against Iran.

But many questions remain unresolved, any of which could heighten the risk of renewed military conflict between the two sides.

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