Iran attacks bases housing US troops

By Meg Wagner, Ivana Kottasová, Mike Hayes, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 0731 GMT (1531 HKT) January 9, 2020
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12:54 p.m. ET, January 8, 2020

Iran and the US exchanged messages through Swiss diplomatic channel

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

The US and Iran have exchanged recent messages via Swiss diplomatic channel, according to the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a source familiar with the channel.

The Swiss statement implied that both sides were involved in the message sending, though it does not detail which country triggered the messaging or if the conversation is ongoing. The source did not specify how recent messages were exchanged.

This diplomatic channel is always available and used regularly for consular issues, and it was relied on heavily during the prisoner exchange late last year. But in a crisis situation, the use of the channel is much more noteworthy, explained a source familiar with the channel. 

Here is the statement, from the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

 “Switzerland is deeply concerned about the heavy tensions between the U.S. and Iran and the latest cycle of violent confrontations in Iraq. We call on all sides to exercise maximum restraint and to avoid any further escalation. Switzerland stands ready to support initiatives of the international community that seek de-escalation in the region.
The diplomatic communication channel between the U.S. and Iran that is provided by Switzerland in the framework of the protective power mandate continues to operate. Switzerland confirms that several messages were transmitted through this channel.”
12:48 p.m. ET, January 8, 2020

Japan temporarily closes embassy in Baghdad

From CNN’s Yoko Wakatsuki in Tokyo and Hira Humayun in Atlanta

The Japanese Embassy in Baghdad was temporarily closed Wednesday, according to a Japanese Foreign Ministry travel advisory.

The advisory says the embassy was closed after an evacuation had been completed.

The alert level was raised to 4 — which means evacuation advisory and no entry — in all areas in Iraq, according to the advisory, but the Japanese consulate in Erbil remains open.

“All Japanese nationals in Iraq are strongly recommended to leave immediately,” the advisory said.
12:53 p.m. ET, January 8, 2020

Trump called on European allies to ditch the nuclear deal. That could put them in a tough spot.

Analysis from CNN's Luke McGee

Leaders attend a meeting of the Joint Commission on Iran's nuclear program (JCPOA) at EU Delegation to the International Organizations office in Vienna, Austria, on December 6, 2019.
Leaders attend a meeting of the Joint Commission on Iran's nuclear program (JCPOA) at EU Delegation to the International Organizations office in Vienna, Austria, on December 6, 2019. Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

In his address on Iran’s strikes on US targets in Iraq, President Trump told his European allies that it was time for them to wake up to the fact that the nuclear deal was a disaster. 

“Iran’s hostilities substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2013,” Trump said. “Instead of saying thank you to the United States, they chanted ‘Death to America.’ In fact, they chanted ‘Death to America’ the day the agreement was signed. They Iran went on a terrorist spree funded by the money from the deal and created hell in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq.”  

He called out Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Russia and China — five of the eight signees to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as JCPOA or the Iran nuclear deal. (The other three were the European Union, Iran and of course the US, which under Trump has withdrawn from the agreement.

The face-off between the US and Iran has put Trump’s European allies in an incredibly tight spot.

The JCPOA was considered a European success — and the only real foreign policy success of the European Union. It wasn't just a success on the grounds that it poured cold water on US-Iran tensions. It also provided Europe with a forum in which it could navigate its major priority in foreign policy: keeping a balance between the US and China. 

China is very important economically to Europe. Its inward investment is welcomed across Europe, but especially in the continent’s struggling southern economies. China, meanwhile, is more than happy to increase its importance in the world's single largest economic bloc. 

China also has historically good relations with Iran. And for those who've been paying attention, the thing China and Iran both have in common is that Trump is doing his best to poke both in the eye. 

Here's what this all means: Asking Europe to stand by America in its scrap with Iran is asking it to pick a side: does it try to keep its new friends in Beijing and Tehran happy? Or does it stand by its old ally, despite the fact it’s led by a man that many European diplomats privately admit is so erratic that he gives them sleepless nights and might not even be in power next year?

12:50 p.m. ET, January 8, 2020

Republican senator says Trump's speech was "measured and firm"

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, praised President Trump for his speech today following a missile attack on two Iraqi bases that house US troops. 

“A homerun speech by President Trump about the challenges we face with Iran. It was measured and firm," said Graham, a close ally of Trump.

Read the rest of Graham's statement:

“To the Iranian people: President Trump laid out a pathway forward for peace and prosperity. I hope you take it.
To the world: President Trump correctly identified the 40 year history of Iranian hostility and destabilization of the region. I hope you will help President Trump change the regime’s behavior so we can avoid a war. 
To the American people and Congress: What President Trump is seeking from Iran is to end 40 years of tyranny, to stop them from being a state sponsor of terrorism, and to abandon their nuclear weapons program once and for all.
All Americans should support President Trump’s efforts to resolve the threat from Iran peacefully and fully understand the Maximum Pressure campaign must continue with a credible military component.”
12:48 p.m. ET, January 8, 2020

Oil prices plunge as Trump speech eases Iran fears

From CNN's Matt Egan

Traders pause to watch a televised speech by President Donald Trump as they work the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday, January 8.
Traders pause to watch a televised speech by President Donald Trump as they work the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday, January 8. Seth Wenig/AP

Oil prices fell sharply today, reversing the initial panic spike caused by fears of a deeper conflict between the United States and Iran.

US crude tumbled 4%, hitting session lows, after President Trump signaled tensions could be easing.

"Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world," Trump said in a highly-anticipated speech.

Crude briefly dipped below $60 a barrel after Trump's remarks, giving back all of the gains from last week's US drone strike that killed a top Iranian commander.

It's a dramatic pullback from the high of $65.65 late Tuesday after Iran lobbed missiles on bases in Iraq that house US troops.

Trump confirmed that no Americans were harmed in that attack, and rather than signaling a US military response, Trump vowed to impose new sanctions on Iran.

12:42 p.m. ET, January 8, 2020

What we know about Trump's claims on the Iran Nuclear deal

From CNN's Daniel Dale, Nicole Gaouette and Zachary Cohen

In this file photo from January 13, 2015, released by the Iranian President's Office, President Hassan Rouhani visits the Bushehr nuclear power plant just outside of Bushehr, Iran.
In this file photo from January 13, 2015, released by the Iranian President's Office, President Hassan Rouhani visits the Bushehr nuclear power plant just outside of Bushehr, Iran. Mohammad Berno/Iranian Presidency Office/AP

President Trump claimed that Iran's hostilities increased after the "foolish nuclear deal was signed in 2013." The agreement was signed in 2015.

Trump also claimed, as he has before, that the deal "expires shortly anyway." While the word "shortly" is subjective, and while some provisions of the agreement are scheduled to expire in five years, some provisions are indefinite. Others run to 2035 and 2040.

"It's not accurate to say the deal expires," said Naysan Rafati, Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, told CNN in July. "Certain clauses of the deal expire and a lot of the key clauses don't expire."

The deal includes important sunset clauses. Its limits on the number of first-generation centrifuges Iran can possess, and on the research and development of more advanced centrifuges, are scheduled to end in 2025. The 3.67% uranium purity limit is to end in 2030.

So is the 300-kilogram limit on Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium, which Iran said last week it has now broken. And so is the ban on building a new heavy-water reactor and on reprocessing spent fuel, which effectively bars Iran from developing a plutonium weapon.

However, some of the limits in the deal extend past 2030 — and some do not expire at all. Centrifuge production sites are to be under continuous surveillance until 2035. Iran's uranium mines and mills are to be monitored until 2040.

Iran is permanently required to provide advance notice of plans to build a nuclear facility. Iran promised that it will not "ever" seek a nuclear weapon. And the International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring of Iran's nuclear activities is to continue indefinitely.

12:39 p.m. ET, January 8, 2020

Trump's Iran comments suggests there won't be a military response

Analysis from CNN's Nick Paton Walsh

Alex Brandon/AP
Alex Brandon/AP

The military escalation appears to be over.

Trump decided to lean on the only "minimal damage" inflicted and unleashed threats. But he only had one practical response: more sanctions.

Moments ago, Trump announced his administration will hit Iran with new sanctions in the wake of its attack on two Iraqi military bases housing US troops.

It is unclear what new sanctions will be unveiled and, after years of punishing blockades being built up, what new measures can actually apply pressure on Iran. After the Saudi oilfield attacks, similar sanctions were pledged and experts even then were unclear what impact was left for the US to have on the already beleaguered economy.

Trump also asked Europe to get behind his maximum pressure campaign and NATO to get more involved with Middle East peace. He said that the US had new hypersonic weapons to unleash if needed.

Iran would never have a nuclear weapon, he began by saying, and the deal intended to prevent that, he added, actually released money that Iran used to get the very weapons used last night. Most of his praise was for the military's preparedness and the early warning system that saved American lives.

"We continue to evaluate options" he said. But an immediate military response won't be one of them.

Here's the bottom line: Trump appears to have taken the off-ramp that last night's mostly theatrical strikes gave him. But he still has to deal with the longer term, and now exaggerated angry threat Iran poses, if it exacts a bloodier revenge over time, more covertly.

11:59 a.m. ET, January 8, 2020

Fact check: Trump repeats exaggeration about Obama and the Iran deal

From CNN's Daniel Dale, Nicole Gaouette and Zachary Cohen

US President Donald Trump speaks about the situation with Iran in the Grand Foyer of the White House
US President Donald Trump speaks about the situation with Iran in the Grand Foyer of the White House Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump moments ago repeated an oft-repeated assertion that Iran was "given $150 billion" by the 2015 nuclear agreement signed by the Obama administration.

Facts first: That figure is an exaggeration. And the money in question wasn't American.

The US had agreed to unfreeze a significant sum of Iran's assets that had been frozen in international financial institutions, predominantly outside the US, because of sanctions against Iran.

Trump did not pull the $150 billion figure out of thin air: Obama himself mused in a 2015 interview about Iran having "$150 billion parked outside the country." But experts on Iran policy, and Obama's administration, said that the quantity of assets the agreement actually made available to Iran was much lower.

In 2015, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew put the number at $56 billion. PolitiFact reported that Garbis Iradian, chief economist at the Institute of International Finance, put it at about $60 billion. Adam Szubin, a senior Treasury Department official, testified to Congress in 2015 that the "usable liquid assets" would total "a little more than $50 billion." The rest of Iran's foreign assets, he said, were either tied up in "illiquid" projects "that cannot be monetized quickly, if at all, or are composed of outstanding loans to Iranian entities that cannot repay them."

Trump was more accurate on Wednesday when he claimed Iran had been given $1.8 billion "in cash." The Obama administration did send Iran $1.7 billion — $400 million plus interest — to settle a decades-old dispute over a purchase of never-delivered US military goods Iran made before its government was overthrown in the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

11:57 a.m. ET, January 8, 2020

5 key takeaways from Trump's first remarks after the Iran strikes

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Trump just finished addressing the nation on the Iran crisis. The President spoke for about 10 minutes and didn't take questions from reporters afterward.

Here are the key things we learned in his address:

  • He confirmed no Americans were killed: Trump said, "No Americans were harmed in last night's attack by the Iranian regime." US and Iraqi sources had previously said there were no known casualties.
  • He said Iran is standing down: "Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world," Trump said.
  • He announced new sanctions: "The United States will immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime," Trump said.
  • He urged allies to pressure Iran on nuclear weapons: Trump called on other nations to recognize that Iran must end its nuclear ambitions. "Iran must abandon its nuclear ambitions and end its support of terrorism," Trump said. "We must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place."
  • He criticized the slain Iran general: Trump said Qasem Soleimani, whose death in a US strike last week sparked the current US-Iran tensions, is "the world's top terrorist." He said Soleimani "was planning new attacks on American targets, but we stopped him."