De-escalation with Iran a shared goal of feuding US lawmakers


Washington (AFP)

US lawmakers across the political spectrum called for de-escalation of tensions with Iran Wednesday following back-and-forth airstrikes, but clear divisions remained over President Donald Trump's military strategy with Tehran.

Republicans praised the commander in chief for signalling he had no immediate plans to respond militarily hours after Iran's missile strikes on Iraqi bases housing American troops.

Iran's riposte followed the death of a top-ranked Iranian commander from a US drone attack.

Many Democrats seethed over Trump's unilateral order to kill the Iranian commander, Qasem Soleimani, without congressional consent. But they took heart in both sides appearing to choose de-escalation rather than a war posture.

Trump addressed the nation to say Iran appeared to be "standing down" and that the United States was prepared to embrace peace.

"I am pleased that President Trump has pulled back and taken the preferred path of no further military action," tweeted Republican Senator Rand Paul, who has long advocated a US troop withdrawal from Iraq.

"I don't think this is the end of it, but I hope it is," he added to reporters before Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other officials briefed US lawmakers on the situation.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a hawkish Trump loyalist, sounded grateful to see tensions lowered.

"In my view, retaliation for the sake of retaliation is not necessary at this time," Graham tweeted.

The Republican senator said Trump struck the right tone. "To the Iranian people and the regime, he's given you a chance to end this peacefully," Graham told reporters.

- 'De-escalate' -

Graham and other lawmakers were to meet Wednesday with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, before he holds talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The United States and Iran, longtime foes, stumbled towards a potentially catastrophic confrontation in recent days.

Tensions between the US and Iran had been escalating since Trump reimposed crippling economic sanctions following the US withdrawal in 2018 from a multinational accord that promised Tehran sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

But the situation escalated massively when Soleimani was killed. Days later Iran retaliated with a volley of missiles aimed at Iraqi bases where US troops are stationed.

Trump said no Americans were harmed in those attacks, and Tehran signalled it did not seek further confrontation.

"One could draw from (Iran's remarks) that they want to de-escalate," number two House Democrat Steny Hoyer said.

"Both sides have said that that's their objective," he added. "Our hope is that that is what happens."

Senate Democrat Ben Cardin said that while Americans will debate the pros and cons of "how we got to this moment," the priority is protecting US troops, de-escalating the conflict and engaging allies.

"I thought the president's speech in that regard gives us some hope that that could happen," Cardin told AFP.

Senator Robert Menendez has been a fierce critic of the president but softened that stance after Trump's address.

"At the end of the day, the president's speech, knowing him, is about as de-escalatory as it gets," Menendez said.

But the Democrat took issue with Trump's strategy of ratcheting up tensions only to claim a win by easing off.

He and other Democrats insist that any further military action against Iran occur only with congressional authorization.

Several Republicans say Trump did not need to consult Congress because he was acting to protect threatened US interests, with congresswoman Liz Cheney hailing the "righteousness" of the attack on Soleimani.