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Foreign Policy

U.S. Downs Iranian Drone, Iran Denies It

Meanwhile, Trump plans to send Sen. Rand Paul as emissary to Iran.

Thomas Gallatin · Jul. 19, 2019

On Thursday, President Donald Trump announced that a U.S. Navy warship, the USS Boxer, had downed an Iranian drone as it was “threatening the safety of the ship and the ship’s crew.” Trump explained that after the drone had closed to 1,000 yards of the ship and ignored “multiple calls to stand down … the drone was immediately destroyed.” He noted that this was “the latest of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran against vessels operating in international waters.”

Trump then asserted, “The United States defends the right to defend our personnel, facilities, and interests, and calls upon all nations to condemn Iran’s attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation and global commerce. I also call on other nations to protect their ships as they go through the Strait and to work with us in the future.”

Iran responded by denying the loss of any of its drones while claiming to have footage of the USS Boxer it will release in an effort to prove its drone returned unharmed. The incident occurred in international waters as the USS Boxer was passing through the Strait of Hormuz. As Trump has increased economic sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program and military activities, Tehran has responded by attacking and harassing shipping vessels and has further threatened to block all shipping traffic through the Strait of Hormuz.

Trump has made it clear that he does not want a war with Iran, even as he has ramped up economic pressure against the world’s number-one sponsor of terrorism. Just last month Trump (appeared to have) called off a retaliatory strike against Iran following the downing of a U.S. drone due to concerns that the strike would kill 150 people, which he called “not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.”

In light of Trump’s desire to find a diplomatic means of deescalating the growing tension between the U.S. and Iran, the president is sending Sen. Rand Paul as an emissary, an idea Paul himself proposed. As Politico reported, “Paul proposed sitting down with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to extend a fresh olive branch on the president’s behalf, according to four U.S. officials. The aim: to reduce tensions between the two countries. Trump signed off on the idea.”

This decision has struck many as strange due to Paul’s libertarian foreign-policy opinions, which often have been at particular odds with Trump’s current National Security Advisor John Bolton. However, Trump himself has often expressed disfavor with America’s handling of the Middle East. In other words, Trump appears to share many of Paul’s views on U.S. foreign intervention, specially in the Middle East. However, this does not mean that Trump is about to throw in the towel on his maximum-pressure effort against Iran.

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