WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Friday that the U.S. was "cocked and loaded' to retaliate against Iran for downing an American drone, but canceled the missile strikes 10 minutes before they were to be executed after being told some 150 people could die.
Trump tweeted Friday that the U.S. will never allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. But he said he's in no hurry to respond to the downing of the U.S. surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz. His statement was the latest indication that he does not want to escalate the clash with Tehran, but he didn't rule out a future U.S. strike.
He said U.S. economic sanctions are crippling the Iranian economy and more are being added.
Iran claimed Friday it had issued several warnings before shooting down the drone over what it said was Iranian territory.
The head of the Revolutionary Guard's aerospace division says a manned U.S. spy plane was near the drone it shot down but Iran chose not to target it.
Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh made the comment Friday at a news conference attended by The Associated Press in Tehran.
The Guard shot down a U.S. Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk instead.
Hajizadeh said: "At the same moment, another spy aircraft called a P8 was flying close to this drone. That aircraft is manned and has around 35 crew members. Well, we could have targeted that plane, it was our right to do so, and yes it was American, but we didn't do it. We hit the unmanned aircraft."
The U.S. military's Central Command did not immediate respond to a request for comment.
United Airlines has suspended one of its flights and other airlines are re-routing planes to avoid the Gulf of Oman.
A United flight between Newark and Mumbai was suspended starting Thursday, the airline said.
"Given current events in Iran, United has conducted a thorough safety and security review of our India service through Iranian airspace," United said in a statement.
The move to suspend service came as the Federal Aviation Administration banned US airlines from operating planes over parts of the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman.
The US regulator said in a statement that "heightened military activities and increased political tensions" in the region could "place commercial flights at risk."
In a notice to airlines, the FAA said that flight tracking applications suggested the nearest civilian aircraft was within 45 miles of the drone when it was targeted.
"There were numerous civil aviation aircraft operating in the area at the time of the intercept," the agency said.
The incident followed an unexplained attack on commercial shipping in the Gulf of Oman last week.
The skies above the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf are frequently traversed by commercial aircraft, and use of the airspace is especially heavy among aircraft bound for Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Airlines that operate flights in the region said Friday that they would adjust their operations.
Emirates, which operates out of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, said in a statement that it had "taken precautionary measures including rerouting all flights away from areas of possible conflict."
The airline said that changes to departure and arrival times had been minimal.
Etihad, which is also based in the United Arab Emirates, said that "contingency plans are in place" and that it would "decide what further action is required after carefully evaluating the FAA directive to US carriers."
Qantas, the flag carrier of Australia, said it was shifting flight paths in the Middle East to avoid the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman. The company said the change would affect flights between London and Australia.
Germany's Lufthansa said it would re-route planes in accordance with the FAA guidance. KLM said it would avoid the Strait of Hormuz.
"The incident with the drone is reason not to fly over the Strait of Hormuz for the time being. This is a precautionary measure," the Dutch airline said in a statement.
British Airways said it was following FAA guidance to avoid the area. It said flights continue to operate using alternative routes.