WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he had instructed the US Navy to fire on any Iranian ships that harass it at sea, but said later he was not changing the military’s rules of engagement. Close interactions with Iranian military vessels were not uncommon in 2016 and 2017. On several occasions, US Navy ships fired warning shots at Iranian vessels when they got too close.
“I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea,” Trump wrote in a tweet, hours after Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps said it had launched the country’s first military satellite into orbit. While the Navy has the authority to act in self-defense, Trump’s comments appeared to go further and were likely to stoke tensions between Iran and the United States.
In a briefing at the White House later on Wednesday, Trump said the military would not be changing its rules of engagement. “We’re covered, we’re covered 100 percent,” Trump said. Senior Pentagon officials said that Trump’s comments on Iran were meant as a warning to Tehran, but suggested that the US military would continue to abide by its existing right to self-defense instead of any changes to its rules. “The president issued an important warning to the Iranians, what he was emphasizing is all of our ships retain the right of self-defense,” Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist told reporters at the Pentagon.
The United States should focus on saving its military from the coronavirus, an Iranian armed forces spokesman said on Wednesday. Earlier this month, the US military said 11 vessels from the IRGCN came close to US Navy and Coast Guard ships in the Gulf, calling the moves “dangerous and provocative.”
At one point, the Iranian vessels came within 10 yards (9 m) of the US Coast Guard cutter Maui. While such interactions at sea occurred occasionally a few years ago, they had stopped recently. Tensions between Iran and the United States increased earlier this year after the United States killed Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, in a drone strike in Iraq.
Iran retaliated on Jan. 8 with a rocket attack on Iraq’s Ain al-Asad base where US forces were stationed. No US troops were killed or faced immediate bodily injury, but more than 100 were later diagnosed with traumatic brain injury.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday ordered a temporary block on some foreigners from permanent residence in the United States, saying he wanted to protect American workers and jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. The order, an election-year move likely to prove popular with his conservative base, is to last for 60 days and then will be reviewed and possibly extended. It is likely to face legal challenges. Some critics saw Republican Trump’s announcement as a move to take advantage of the coronavirus crisis to implement a long-sought policy goal of barring more immigrants in line with his “America first” platform.
“In order to protect our great American workers I have just signed an executive order temporarily suspending immigration into the United States. This will ensure that unemployed Americans of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs as our economy reopens,” Trump said at his daily news conference about the coronavirus at the White House.
He also said it will “preserve our healthcare resources for American patients” afflicted by the coronavirus. Trump’s order could block more than 20,000 people per month from obtaining a green card of permanent residence, based on an analysis by the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute.
However, US immigration services abroad and at home have largely come to a halt in the pandemic, which may blunt the immediate effect of the order. Democrats and immigrant advocates have criticized the new policy as an attempt to distract from Trump’s response to the pandemic. The United States has the most confirmed cases and deaths in the world with at least 821,000 people infected and at least 46,000 deaths, according to a Reuters tally. The measure would block immigration based on both employment and family ties, but not affect guest workers who enter the United States on temporary visas, such as farm workers and skilled workers in the H-1B visa program.
Doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals will be exempted, as will other prospective immigrants coming to the country to perform “essential” work to combat the new coronavirus, as determined by federal agencies. The measure also excludes immigrants applying for the EB-5 visa program, which allows foreigners willing to invest in US projects that create or preserve jobs to obtain permanent residence. The order blocks the ability of relatives of US citizens to seek permanent residence through their familial connections, if those relatives are outside the United States. But it makes an exception for spouses of US citizens and unmarried children under the age of 21.
Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said that while the order is limited in scope, it “will cause real pain for families and employers across the country.” White House lawyers worked all day to craft the language for the order, prompting some officials to say the signing might have to wait for Thursday. But aides described Trump as eager to sign the document.
Trump won the White House in 2016 in part on a promise to crack down on immigration and has made the issue central to his presidency. But many of his major moves trying to curb immigration have been challenged in court. – Agencies