President Trump’s reactions to the drone strikes on Saudi oil facilities have ranged from confrontational to conciliatory. After the September 14 attacks, Trump seemed to threaten an armed response. He tweeted the United States was “locked and loaded” as it investigated the culprit. On September 16, Trump said the United States was still gathering information but that Iran seemed to be behind the attacks, which disrupted about six percent of the global oil supply. He emphasized that he wanted to avoid a regional conflict and said he was in “no rush” to respond.
Trump still thought the United States and Iran could make a deal. “No, it’s never exhausted. ... You never know what’s going to happen. ... I know they want to make a deal. ... At some point it will work out,” he told reporters. Trump added that the United States was “more prepared” for a conflict than any other country in history. He claimed the United States had the most advanced weapons system in the world and said he was “not concerned at all” with the possibility of war.
Trump had initially said he would wait for Saudi Arabia to tell him “under what terms we would proceed.” But he seemed to walk back his deference to Riyadh in a press conference on September 16. Trump told reporters he had not “promised” to protect Saudi Arabia. “The fact is the Saudis are going to have a lot of involvement in this if we decide to do something,” he said. “They’ll be very much involved. And that includes payment. And they understand that fully.” The following are Trump’s remarks on the Saudi attacks.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: We have just sanctioned the Iranian National Bank. That is their central banking system. And it’s going to be at the highest level of sanctions. So that just took place, and a couple of other things.
Q Does that mean to the President of Iran?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Right to the top.
Q The Supreme Leader?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Right to the top. Okay?
Q The Supreme Leader?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Yes. Right to the top. So we’re dealing with many nations. We’re dealing with some of the neighbors to Saudi Arabia. And of course, we’re dealing with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is very much involved, from the standpoint of what we’re doing and what they’re doing. And we’re working together with others.
We’re also working on the cost of this whole endeavor. And Saudi Arabia has been very generous. We want to see if it works out. And if it works out, that’s great. And if it doesn’t work out, that’s great. In the end, it always works out. That’s the way it is: It always works out.
So you’ll be seeing certain things happening, but a very major factor is what we did. These are the highest sanctions ever imposed on a country. We’ve never done it to this level. And it’s too bad what’s happening with Iran. It’s going to hell, doing poorly. They are practically broke. They are broke. And they could -- they could solve the problem very easily. All they have to do is stop with the terror.
They have been the number-one -- as you know, Scott, very well -- number-one country worldwide of terror, between sponsoring it and doing it themselves. And we can’t have it. They have a tremendous potential. They have an incredible potential. I can -- I think I can speak on behalf on Australia, too, in the sense that we’d like to see them do very well.
We were discussing it before -- the Prime Minister and myself. We want to see them do well. But it looks to me like, with what’s happening, maybe they want to keep going at it. And when they go at it with us, there’s no way they win -- no way they win in any way or in any capacity.
So we wanted to let you know about that. And that’s the way it is. And thank you all very much. We’re going to spend a lot of time with Australia today. Today is our -- our -- a very special day for the United States because we’re honoring a great ally and a great friend.
Q Are you prepared for military action against Iran, Mr. President?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Always prepared. There's never been a country more prepared.
Q Are you planning for it?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: There's never been a country more prepared.
Q Is that going to happen?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I spent one and half trillion dollars. And we're spending another $738 billion now. But I've spent one and a half trillion dollars rebuilding our military. We have the finest ships, the finest planes, the finest everything.
And actually, Scott and Australia, they've purchased a lot of great stuff from the United States, some of the best military equipment that you have. We have the greatest missiles in the world, rockets in the world, jetfighters in the world, planes in the world, ships. And we have, under construction, a number of the most powerful submarines ever built. And they're getting very close to completion.
We have the largest ship in the world right now -- the President Gerald Ford, the aircraft carrier. It's the largest ship ever built. And just flew over it yesterday, actually. It's massive and beautiful.
We have the greatest -- and I have to say this, when I got here, Scott, it was a different world. It was a different world. We were very depleted. And I actually saw one of the related networks today saying how strongly and good and how well we've done with ISIS. I defeated the caliphate.
Now, when I came, the caliphate was all over the place. I defeated the caliphate -- ISIS. And now, we have thousands of prisoners of war -- ISIS fighters that are prisoners of war. And we're asking the countries from which they came, Scott -- from Europe -- we're asking them to take back these prisoners of war. And they can try them, do what they want.
So far, they've refused. And at some point, I'm going to have to say, "I'm sorry, but you either take them back, or we're going to let them go at your border." But they came out from Germany, they came out from France. We captured them. We did everyone a big favor. We've taken over the caliphate 100 percent.
If you remember, I was thinking about getting out when it was at 96, 97 percent. But they were all over the place. And we did it. We did it in record time. It was a total caliphate victory. And now, I want the countries to take back the captured ISIS fighters. And if they don't take them back, we're going to probably going to put them at the border and then they'll have to capture them again.
Because the United States is not going to have thousands and thousands of people that we have captured stationed at Guantanamo Bay, held captive at Guantanamo Bay, for the next 50 years, and us spending billions and billions of dollars. We've done Europe a tremendous favor -- they mostly come out of Europe. And we've done them a tremendous favor. And the United States is not going to pay the cost of thousands and thousands of ISIS fighter prisoners in Guantanamo Bay or someplace else. We won't do it. So, they have to make their decision. Otherwise, we're releasing them at the border.
Q But are you going to be discussing the options for Iran today with your team?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Sure. But also with Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State. We're discussing with everybody. And, you know, the early move today was the Central Bank of Iran.
Q Mr. President, is the U.S. moving toward a military conflict?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: It's always possible.
Q On the U.N., how critical is it that you build a coalition to address Iran -- Iran's latest provocations? And does that start today with the Prime Minister?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I always like a coalition. And sometimes you find that people have made a lot of money that you'd want in the coalition. They've made a lot money with Iran, which is -- you know, when President Obama made that deal, not only was it a bad deal, but the United States didn’t partake, in a business sense.
And other countries -- Germany, France, Russia, many other countries -- made a lot of money with Iran. And we didn’t make money with Iran, which -- that was just one of the many bad parts about the deal. Everyone else is making money and we're not.
So, we'll see what happens. Look, the United States is in a class by itself. We have the most powerful military in the world, by far. There's nobody close. As you know, we've spent tremendous and hopefully -- and we pray to God we never have to use it, but we've totally renovated and bought new nuclear. And the rest of our military is all brand new.
The nuclear now is at a level that’s it's never been before. And I can only tell you because I know -- I know the problems of nuclear. I know the damages that -- I know what happens. And I want to tell you: We all hope, and Scott hopes -- we all pray that we never have to use nuclear. But there's nobody that has anywhere close to what we have.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: The easiest thing for me to do -- and maybe it's even a natural instinct, maybe I have to hold myself back. I remember during the debates, and when I was running against Hillary and the Democrats and the media -- I view them all the same; I view that partnership very much the same.
But when I was running, everybody said, "Oh, he's going to get into war. He's going to get into war. He's going to blow everybody up. He's going to get into war." Well, the easiest thing I can do -- in fact, I could do it while you're here --would say, "Go ahead, fellas. Go do it." And that would be a very bad day for Iran. That’s the easiest thing I could do. It's so easy.
And for all of those that say, “Oh, they should do it. It shows weakness. It shows…” Actually, in my opinion, it shows strength. Because the easiest thing I could do, “Okay, go ahead. Knock out 15 different major things in Iran.” I could do that and -- all set to go. It’s all set to go. But I’m not looking to do that if I can.
And I think I’ve changed a lot of minds. People are very surprised that -- and many people are extremely happy. Many people are thrilled. And many people are saying, “Oh, I wish you’d hit the hell the out of them.” Well, let’s see what happens. But it will take place in one minute; I could do it right here in front of you and that would be it. And then you’d have a nice, big story to report.
And I think it shows far more strength to do it the way we’re doing it. And again, whether it’s next week or two weeks or three weeks doesn’t make any difference. Whether it’s now or in three weeks doesn’t make any difference. But I think the strong person’s approach and the thing that does show strength would be showing a little bit of restraint. Much easier to do it the other way. It’s much easier.
And Iran knows if they misbehave, they’re on borrowed time. They’re not doing well. I’d like to see them do great. I’d love to see them do great, but they’re not doing well. They’re doing very poorly. They’re doing far worse than they’ve ever done before. They’re having riots in their streets. They’re having a lot of problems in Iran right now. They could solve it very quickly.
But the easiest thing for me to do is say, “Okay, let’s go. Let’s just do it.” Very easy for me to do. But it is interesting, because when I was campaigning, everybody here thought that I was going to be like -- it would be one day. But what I have done is I’ve defeated ISIS, I’ve rebuilt our military to a level that it’s never been before, spent a lot of money. The budgets are not so hard to fix for me, but when you’re spending one and a half trillion [dollars], so far. Now, another $738 million -- billion -- on the military. But think of it: one and a half trillion dollars. And we have the greatest in the world.
But I think restraint is a good thing. I think it’s a good thing.
—September 20, 2019, in a press conference Australian Prime Minister Scott Morris
Q And, Mr. President, any update on your thinking?
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, I have nothing to report yet. We’ll probably be speaking to you tomorrow, maybe the next day. But nothing to report. But it hasn’t changed very much. I think my thinking pretty much remains the same. And we haven’t learned much that we didn’t know. But there is — there is a certain — a guarantee factor. We’re really at a point now where we know very much what happened.
Q Lindsey Graham said sanctions aren’t enough. Will you do more on Iran?
THE PRESIDENT: We’ll see what happens. We’ll see. You’ll watch.
Q Mr. President, should Rouhani come to New York next week?
THE PRESIDENT: I really don’t know. I really don’t know. That’s up to him. I mean, I’m — it’s not up to me. It’s up to him. We’ll see what happens.
Q (Inaudible) visas from Iranians to come?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we’re going to see what happens. I would let them come. If it was up to me, I would let them come.
I’ve always felt the United Nations is very important. I think it’s got tremendous potential. I don’t think it’s ever lived up to the potential it has, but I would certainly not want to keep people out if they want to come. So, that would be up to them.
Q (Inaudible) Senator Graham, who said that the failure to strike Iran this summer was a sign of — taken by Iran as a sign of weakness?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I actually think it’s a sign of strength. We have the strongest military in the world now. And I think it’s a great sign of strength. It’s very easy to attack.
But if you ask Lindsey, ask him: How did going into the Middle East — how did that work out? And how did going in Iraq work out?
So, we have a disagreement on that. And, you know, there’s plenty of time to do some dastardly things. It’s very easy to start. And we’ll see what happens. We’ll see what happens.
I think we have a lot of good capital. If we have to do something, we’ll do it without hesitation.
Q Mr. President, would you raise more sanctions on Iran today?
THE PRESIDENT: I did.
Q Would you announce more sanctions on Iran? What will they include?
THE PRESIDENT: We’ll be adding some very significant sanctions onto Iran.
Q And what will they include, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: We’ll be announcing it over the next 48 hours.
Q And you said that there will be a further announcement on Iran. Are you looking at a military strike?
THE PRESIDENT: We’ll see what happens.
Q What are the options, Mr. President, that you’re considering? You just said that there were some very bad things you’re thinking about.
THE PRESIDENT: There are many options. And there’s the ultimate option, and there are options that are a lot less than that. And we’ll see. We’re in a very powerful position. Right now, we’re in a very, very powerful position
—September 18, 2019, in a press conference before Air Force One departure
Q Mr. President, Mike Pompeo is very certain Iran is behind the attack, and you’re not. Why does he know more than you?
Trump: I think we’re the same. I think we just want to find out the final numbers and see. You look at a vector, and you look at -- there are lots of different things we can look at, David. And we’ll know for certain over the next pretty short period of time.
Q If you become sure, are we going to see military action?
Trump: Well, then we’re going to decide. Then we’re going to decide.
Q After the drone downing, you said it wouldn’t be proportionate to do a lethal strike on Iran where you kill a bunch of people for the drone. An attack on an oil facility, even though it’s big --
Trump: I would say yes.
Q Mr. President, can you trust Saudi Arabia on Iran, since they lied to you about Khashoggi?
Trump: Oh, I think so. Look, they want to find out also. And I think they probably feel they know. But we’re going to know very quickly. We have pretty much all the material we need. We’ll know very quickly.
Q Oil went up $15 today. How concerned are you about that?
Trump: Well, if you look at what we have, we have tremendous amounts of oil in our country. We’re independent of everybody now. We have more than anybody else. We’re the number-one energy producer in the world, which took place very recently. And we will soon be substantially more than anybody else.
So it won’t affect us. And ultimately, I don’t think it will affect the world either. But it won’t affect the United States.
Q Are you worried about it affecting the economy?
Trump: I don’t think so. No, I think it’s going to be fine.
—September 16, 2019, in a press conference before Marine One departure
Q Mr. President, have you seen evidence, proof, that Iran was behind the attack in Saudi Arabia?
Trump: Well, it’s looking that way. We’re having some very strong studies done, but it’s certainly looking that way at this moment. And we’ll let you know. As soon as we find out definitively, we’ll let you know. But it does look that way.
Q Do you want war with Iran, Mr. President? Do you want war with Iran?
Trump: Do I want war? I don’t want war with anybody. I’m somebody that would like not to have war. We have the strongest military in the world. We’ve spent more than a trillion and a half dollars in the last short period of time on our military. Nobody has even come close. We have the best equipment in the world. We have the best missiles.
Q What are the options, Mr. President?
Trump: Well, we have a lot of options, but I’m not looking at options right now. We want to find definitively who did this. We’re dealing with Saudi Arabia. We’re dealing with the Crown Prince and so many other of your neighbors, and we’re all talking about it together. We’ll see what happens.
Q Mr. President, will you meet with President Rouhani in New York, as it was speculated that you might meet?
Trump: Well, I have no meeting scheduled. I know they want to meet. I know they’re not doing well as a country. Iran has got a lot of problems right now that two and a half years ago — and even a little bit more than that — when I came in — it’s hard to believe it’s almost three years — but two and half to three years ago, they were causing a lot of trouble. And we’ll see what happens.
Q Are you still willing to meet with the Iranians without preconditions? Still willing to meet with President Rouhani?
Trump: Well, you know, there were always conditions, because the conditions — if you look at it, the sanctions are not going to be taken off. So, you know, that’s why the press misreported it. The biggest thing you can talk about are the sanctions, and the sanctions are massive. There’s never been sanctions put on a country like that. And I think they have a tremendous future, but not the way they’re behaving.
We’ll see what happens in terms of this attack. Secretary Pompeo and others will be going over to Saudi Arabia at some point to discuss what — they feel they’re going to make a statement fairly soon. But they also know something that most people don’t know, as to where it came from, who did it. And we’ll be able to find that out. We’ll figure that out very quickly. We pretty much already know.
Q You said the United States is prepared for war.
Trump: The United States is more prepared than any country in history, if we have to go that way. As to whether or not we go that way, we’ll see. We have to find out definitively who did it. We have to speak to Saudi Arabia. They have to have a lot in the game also. And, you know, they’re willing to do that. I think everybody knows they’re willing to do that.
So we’ll be meeting with Saudi Arabia. We’ll be talking to Saudi Arabia. We’ll be talking to UAE and many of the neighbors out there that we’re very close friends with. We’re also talking to Europe, a lot of the countries that we’re dealing with — whether it’s France, Germany, et cetera. Talking to a lot of different folks. And we’re figuring out what they think.
But I will tell you, that was a very large attack and it could be met with an attack many, many times larger, very easily, by our country. But we’re going to find out who definitively did it, first.
Q So do you think it was launched from Iran?
Trump: You’re going to find out in great detail in the very near future. We have the exact locations of just about everything. You’re going to find out at the right time. But it’s too early to tell you that now.
Q Mr. President, has diplomacy been exhausted when it comes to issues of Iran? Diplomacy — has it been exhausted?
Trump: No. It’s never exhausted. In fact, the Crown Prince can tell you, especially in your part of the world, it’s never exhausted until the final 12 seconds.
You never know what’s going to happen. No, it’s not exhausted. Nothing is exhausted. And we’ll see what happens.
I think they would like to make a deal. I know they’d like to make a deal. They’d like to do it, but they’d like to do it on certain terms and conditions, and we won’t do that. But at some point, it will work out, in my opinion.
The problem was, the deal that was signed by the previous administration was a disaster — which, by the way, would be expiring in a very short period of time also. So you really don’t have a deal. You know, that deal was a very short-term deal. So they made a deal, but it was for a very short period of time. So that deal would be expiring very soon.
Q Have you promised the Saudis that the U.S. will protect them in this case?
Trump: No, I haven’t. No, I haven’t. I haven’t promised the Saudis that. We have to sit down with the Saudis and work something out. And the Saudis want very much for us to protect them, but I say, well, we have to work. That was an attack on Saudi Arabia, and that wasn’t an attack on us.
Q What’s your message to Iran right now?
Trump: I think I’ll have a stronger message, or maybe no message at all, when we get the final results of what we’re looking at. But, right now, it’s too soon to say. There’s plenty of time. You know, there’s no rush. We’ll all be here a long time. There’s no rush.
Q And how concerned are you about the risk of an all-out war in the Middle East?
Trump: I’m not concerned at all.
Q You don’t think that we’re a step closer to that, given what Iran just did?
Trump: No. I’m not. Personally, I’m not concerned at all. We have military power the likes of which the world has never seen. I’m not concerned at all. I’d like to avoid it.
—September 16, 2019, in a press conference with Crown Prince Salman of Bahrain
Remember when Iran shot down a drone, saying knowingly that it was in their “airspace” when, in fact, it was nowhere close. They stuck strongly to that story knowing that it was a very big lie. Now they say that they had nothing to do with the attack on Saudi Arabia. We’ll see?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 16, 2019
Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 15, 2019