Report: Trump told advisers hitting back at Iran during pandemic was bad optics
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Report: Trump told advisers hitting back at Iran during pandemic was bad optics

US president said to have backed off large-scale response to rocket attack on US troops in Iraq, concerned it would look bad as Tehran grapples with coronavirus crisis

US President Donald Trump speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on March 16, 2020. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)
US President Donald Trump speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on March 16, 2020. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

US President Donald Trump reportedly backed off a large-scale response against Iran following a deadly rocket attack in Iraq, over fears that doing so in the midst of the coronavirus crisis would harm his administration’s image.

Trump made the comment to his top national security advisers in a meeting last week on possible responses to the attack by Iranian proxies, according to NBC News, citing former and current administration officials.

Two US troops and a British army medic were killed and 14 others wounded in a barrage of rockets fired at Camp Taji in Iraq on March 11.

The US responded days later by attacking Iranian-backed Shia militia Kataeb Hezbollah, believed responsible for the rocket attack. A Defense Department statement said the strikes targeted five weapons storage facilities “to significantly degrade their ability to conduct future attacks.”

A Pentagon statement said the facilities hit in the precision strikes were used to store weapons used to target the US and coalition forces. It called the counterattack “defensive, proportional and in direct response to the threat” posed by the Iranian-backed Shia militia groups.

This photo released by the government-affiliated Media Security Cell on Thursday, March 12, 2020, shows a rocket-rigged truck launcher after a rocket attack on Camp Taji, a few miles north of Baghdad, in Rashidiya, Iraq. (Media Security Cell via AP)

The strikes marked a rapid escalation in tensions with Tehran and its proxy groups in Iraq, just two months after the US killed Iran’s most powerful military officer, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in a strike, and Tehran responded with a massive ballistic missile attack against American troops at a base in Iraq.

On Thursday Iran’s Mission to the United Nations urged the international community to call on the United States to lift sanctions against the country immediately so it can import medicine and medical equipment desperately needed to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Iran is one of the hardest-hit countries in the world in the COVID-19 pandemic. Nine out of 10 cases in the Middle East come from the Islamic Republic, and fears remain that it may be under reporting its cases.

Over 18,000 cases have been reported in the Islamic Republic, with nearly 1,300 deaths.

Iran’s UN Mission said in a statement late Thursday that “the inhuman and unlawful” US sanctions are hampering efforts to prevent further spread of COVID-19 to other nations and are harming the health and lives of Iranians.

“In other words, while the US is trying to curb the virus internally, it is helping the spread of virus externally by undermining the professional capabilities of certain affected countries who try to combat its pandemic,” the mission said.

Iranians, some wearing protective masks, gather inside the capital Tehran’s grand bazaar, during the coronavirus pandemic crisis, on March 18, 2020 (AFP)

The mission called the US sanctions “tantamount to crimes against humanity,” saying they “make it virtually impossible for Iranians to import needed medicine and medical equipment.”

It said a special mechanism allowing Iran to import medicine is very difficult to use because of sanctions-related “impediments” including extreme difficulty for Iran to use its financial resources abroad.

Washington imposed crippling sanctions on Tehran after withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal. The US says it has offered humanitarian aid during the virus crisis but that Iran has rejected it.

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