At around 4:00 a.m. on June 20, Iranian forces shot down a U.S. military drone over or near the Strait of Hormuz. It marked a significant escalation in tensions between Iran and the United States. The countries had conflicting versions of what happened.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) claimed it downed an RQ-4 Global Hawk after it violated Iranian airspace. "Shooting down the American spy drone had a clear, decisive, firm and accurate message," said General Hossein Salami, the IRGC commander. "The message is that the guardians of the borders of Islamic Iran will decisively respond to the violation of any stranger to this land. The only solution for the enemies is to respect the territorial integrity and national interests of Iran." Salami added that Iran did not seek a conflict but was “completely ready for war.”
President Donald Trump tweeted an initial reaction:
Iran made a very big mistake!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 20, 2019
He said that he thought someone “loose and stupid” shot down the drone. “We didn't have a man or woman in the drone. It would have made a big, big difference.”
Washington acknowledged that the drone was shot down by a surface-to-air missile system. But it said the incident occurred in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz. "Iranian reports that the aircraft was over Iran are false," said CENTCOM spokesperson Navy Captain Bill Urban. "This was an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset in international airspace." He explained that the RQ-4 Global Hawk "provides real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions (ISR) over vast ocean and coastal regions."
On June 21, President Trump ordered a retaliatory strike on Iranian radar and missile batteries, but called off the attack at the last minute. "Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired when word came to stand down," according to a senior administrative official.
Later that morning, Trump confirmed that he had aborted the operation in a series of tweets:
....On Monday they shot down an unmanned drone flying in International Waters. We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 21, 2019
Tehran claimed that it had refrained from shooting down a U.S. military aircraft with 35 people on board. “With the U.S. drone in the region there was also an American P-8 plane with 35 people on board. This plane also entered our airspace and we could have shot it down, but we did not,” said Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the Revolutionary Guards aerospace division.
Tensions in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman have run high since early May, when National Security Advisor John Bolton announced the deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and a B-52 bomber task force to the region.
Iran had already attempted to down a U.S. drone on June 13. Iran fired a surface-to-air missile at an MQ-9 Reaper that was surveilling the Kokuta Courageous, one of two tankers damaged in attacks that Washington attributed to Tehran. The United States previously acknowledged that Houthi rebels in Yemen, with Iran’s support, shot down another MQ-9 on June 6.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
LEGEND: blue=drone; yellow line=Iranian FIR; red line=Iranian territorial waters; ; green line=baseline internal waters; yellow dots=Iran radio warnings sent; red dot=point of impact. pic.twitter.com/Fs2jadCuoq— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) June 22, 2019
At 00:14 US drone took off from UAE in stealth mode & violated Iranian airspace. It was targeted at 04:05 at the coordinates (25°59'43"N 57°02'25"E) near Kouh-e Mobarak.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) June 20, 2019
We've retrieved sections of the US military drone in OUR territorial waters where it was shot down. pic.twitter.com/pJ34Tysmsg
IRGC Commander General Hossein Salami
“Borders are our red lines. Any enemy that invades these borders will not return [home]. We don’t have any intention to go [to] war with any country, but we are completely ready for war.”
—June 20, 2019, in an interview with Tasnim news agency according to The Wall Street Journal
For more Iranian reaction, click here.
President Donald Trump
Iran leadership doesn’t understand the words “nice” or “compassion,” they never have. Sadly, the thing they do understand is Strength and Power, and the USA is by far the most powerful Military Force in the world, with 1.5 Trillion Dollars invested over the last two years alone..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 25, 2019
....a dangerous journey. We don’t even need to be there in that the U.S. has just become (by far) the largest producer of Energy anywhere in the world! The U.S. request for Iran is very simple - No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2019
I never called the strike against Iran “BACK,” as people are incorrectly reporting, I just stopped it from going forward at this time!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 22, 2019
Iran cannot have Nuclear Weapons! Under the terrible Obama plan, they would have been on their way to Nuclear in a short number of years, and existing verification is not acceptable. We are putting major additional Sanctions on Iran on Monday. I look forward to the day that.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 22, 2019
“I'm not looking for war and if there is, it'll be obliteration like you've never seen before. But I'm not looking to do that. But you can't have a nuclear weapon. You want to talk? Good. Otherwise you can have a bad economy for the next three years. Not as far as I'm concerned. No pre-conditions.”
“I think the response should be -- Well, first of all, as you know, we've done very massive sanctions. We're increasing the sanctions now. But the response is always going to be very strong.”
(When asked if planes were in the air) "No, but they would have been pretty soon, and things would have happened to a point where you would not turn back, you could not turn back."
"Nothing was green lighted until the very end because things change.”
"I thought about it for a second and I said, you know what, they shot down an unmanned drone, plane, whatever you want to call it, and here we are sitting with a 150 dead people that would have taken place probably within a half an hour after I said go ahead, and I didn't like it, I didn't think, I didn't think it was proportionate."
—June 23, 2019, in an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press"
....proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world. Sanctions are biting & more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 21, 2019
"You'll soon find out" if the U.S. is planning a strike on Iran in retaliation.
"I find it hard to believe it was intentional if you want to know the truth."
“It could have been someone loose and stupid that did it."
"I would imagine it was a general or somebody who made a mistake in shooting the drone down. Fortunately, that drone was unarmed. It was not -- there was no man in it, it was in international waters but we didn't have a man or woman in the drone, we had nobody in the drone. Would have made a big, big difference."
"I have a feeling -- and I may be wrong and I may be right but I'm right a lot -- that it was a mistake made by somebody that shouldn't have been doing what they do. I think they made a mistake and I'm not just talking about the country made a mistake somebody under the command of the country made a mistake."
—June 20, 2019, during a bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Iran made a very big mistake!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 20, 2019
"We’re pulling a lot of people back but this is a new wrinkle. This is a new fly in the ointment, what happened shooting down the drone. And this country will not stand for it, that I can tell you."
"Look, I said I want to get out of these endless wars. I campaigned on that. I want to get out."
—June 20, 2019, in a statement according to CNN
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
"First, President Trump did not pass a message through Oman calling for talks with Iran. We have made our position abundantly clear. We are willing to engage when the time is right. It’s telling that the Iranian regime rejected the recent, historic diplomacy of Japanese Prime Minister Abe, attacked a Japanese tanker in the Gulf of Oman, and shot down a U.S. aircraft operating in international airspace.
Second, the United States has shown beyond any doubt that Iran shot down a U.S. unmanned aircraft in international airspace. Foreign Minister Zarif’s hand-drawn map disputing this fact is not credible. This attack marks the second time Iran targeted an American unmanned aircraft in recent weeks."
—June 22, 2019, in an official statement by the State Department
First, President Trump did not pass a message through Oman calling for talks with Iran. We have made our position abundantly clear and we are willing to engage when the time is right.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) June 22, 2019
National Security Advisor John Bolton
"Neither Iran nor any other hostile actor should mistake US prudence and discretion for weakness. No one has granted them a hunting license in the Middle East."
—June 23, 2019, during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem
Vice President Mike Pence
"The President also had doubts as to whether or not the downing of our unmanned aircraft was actually authorized at the highest levels. We're not convinced that it was authorized at the highest levels."
—June 23, 2019, in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union"
“What I can tell you is that as of tomorrow we expect the president to announce an additional round of sanctions in response to Iran's downing of an American unmanned vehicle as well as in a very real sense in the wake of what was clearly Iran's action in attacking two tankers in the straits. But look what- what- what the president did on Thursday was- was listen to all of his advisers and- but at the end of the day the president concluded that- that seeing the potential of a hundred and fifty people killed in an American airstrike when an unmanned American vehicle had been downed in airspace was not a proportional response. But Iran should not- Iran should not confuse American restraint with a lack of American resolve. This president's made it clear we are going to protect American forces in the region. We're going to protect American interests in the region and the United States of America will never allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.”
—June 23, 2019, in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation”
Special Representative on Iran Brian Hook
“This is a president who is very willing to sit down with the regime. I think the question people should be asking is ... why Iran continues to reject diplomacy.”
“They are in a recession now, it is going to get significantly worse.”
—June 23, 2019, in a telephone interview from Oman according to Reuters
Members of Congress
Speaker of the House, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
“The high tension wires are up in the region. We have to be strong and strategic in how we protect our interests. We cannot be reckless in what we do… I don't think the president wants to go to war. There's no appetite to go to war in our country.”
––June 20, 2019 in her weekly press conference
Senate Majority Leader, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Last night, Iran shot down a U.S. drone that was in international airspace. Just one more reminder about the need for cutting-edge national defense and military readiness. That’s exactly what the defense legislation the Senate is currently considering would help accomplish.— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) June 20, 2019
Chairman of House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY)
What I'd like to hear from the Administration is the clearest possible statement that the United States is not looking for war with #Iran and how we can get Iran back to the negotiating table. https://t.co/qLLEyPwC5n— Eliot Engel (@RepEliotEngel) June 19, 2019
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
The blame for the current situation lies with the Ayatollah and his murderous henchmen, NOT the United States.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) June 20, 2019
The Iranian attack against an American drone, combined with Iranian proxies firing missiles into Saudi Arabia, is further escalation of an already tense situation.
For more Congressional comments, click here.
Commander of Air Forces Central Command General Joseph Guastella
"This was an unprovoked attack on the US 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 the free flow of commerce. Iranian reports that this aircraft was shot down over Iran are categorically false."
“The aircraft was over the Strait of Hormuz, and fell into international waters. At the time of the intercept, the RQ-4 was operating at high altitude, approximately 34 kilometers from the nearest point of land on the Iranian coast."
—June 20, 2019, during a briefing at the Pentagon according to CNN
Spokesman for U.S. Central Command Captain Bill Urban
“We did not have any aircraft in Iranian airspace today.”
“U.S. Central Command can confirm that a U.S. Navy . . . aircraft was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile system while operating in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz.”
—June 20, 2019, in a statement according to the Washington Post
Signatories of the 2015 Nuclear Deal
(Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action)
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Jeremy Hunt
“We will stand by the United States as our strongest ally but of course we have to consider any requests for military support on a case-by-case basis. We want to de-escalate the situation but we are of course extremely worried.”
—June 22, 2019, in an interview while campaigning in Scotland
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov
“It is absolutely evident from the incoming information that the situation is extremely dangerous. The menace of a conflict is not gone, and we once again are calling on responsible parties, if any are still left in Washington, to weigh all the consequences. We warn against incautious steps.”
—June 21, 2019, in a statement to Russian news outlet TASS
President Vladimir Putin
“It would be a catastrophe, for the region at the very minimum, because it will lead to an increase of violence, and potential increase in refugees from the region, but also, for those who would attempt it, it could have possibly sad consequences.”
—June 20, 2019, in a television address to the Russian public
Other Relevant Parties
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
“Obviously, we're very concerned about the escalation by Iran recently. We have significant presence in the area, including leading on the NATO mission in Baghdad, in Iraq. We look forward to discussing with our closest ally -- their perspectives on this -- and how we can move forward as an international community.”
—June 20, 2019, before a bilateral meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump
“I have only one strong recommendation: nerves of steel.”
—June 21, 2019, in a statement according to Reuters
Secretary General Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric
"The Secretary-General is very concerned about developments in the Gulf region, including the reported downing of a United States drone by Iran. He appeals to all sides to exercise maximum restraint and avoid any action that can escalate the already tense situation. The Secretary-General stresses that the world cannot afford a major confrontation in the Gulf region."
—June 20, 2019, in a statement according to CNN
Middle East Countries
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
“In the last 24 hours, Iran has intensified its aggression against the United States and against all of us,” he said, adding that “Israel stands by the United States and its military.”
—June 20, 2019, in a statement according to the Associated Press
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir
"Today, Iran is under severe economic sanctions. These sanctions will be strengthened. If Iran continues its aggressive policies, it will have to pay the price."
“We said we wanted to avoid a war at all costs, like the Americans. It is the Iranians who are making the choice of escalation.”
—June 24, 2019, in an interview with Le Monde
“I think the situation is very grave because of the aggressive behavior of Iran,” Adel al-Jubeir told reporters in London.
“When you interfere with international shipping it has an impact on the supply of energy, it has an impact on the price of oil which has an impact on the world economy. It essentially affects almost every person on the globe.”
—June 20, 2019, in a statement according to Reuters