U.S. President Joe Biden said he had made a decision on how to respond to an attack by Iranian-backed militants that killed three American troops in the Middle East, although he did not reveal his plans as he spoke to reporters Tuesday.
Biden said Iran was responsible for providing the weaponry used in the strike, but added that he did not seek a broader confrontation with tensions in the region already high.
“I don’t think we need a wider war in the Middle East. That’s not what I’m looking for,” Biden said.
An unmanned aerial drone struck a base located in northeast Jordan close to the Iraqi and Syrian borders over the weekend, killing the three Americans and injured dozens. The American deaths were the first by enemy fire since the Israel-Hamas war began in October.
The incident poses an election-year dilemma for the U.S. president who has sought to keep tensions from escalating amid the Israel-Hamas war, even as Iranian proxies in the region step up their attacks.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the eventual U.S. response could involve multiple steps.
“It’s very possible that what you’ll see is a tiered approach here, not just a single action but potentially multiple actions over a period of time,” Kirby told reporters aboard Air Force One, traveling with Biden to Florida.
Kirby said Biden spoke Tuesday morning to the family members of the killed service members and would attend what is known as a dignified transfer ceremony at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Friday when their bodies are flown back to the U.S.
“He expressed to them how proud we all are of their service, how we mourn and feel sorrow over their loss, made sure that those families knew that not only was that service and sacrifice going to be honored and respected, but that they would continue to get the support that they need,” Kirby said.
Lawmakers in the U.S. have been pressing Biden to retaliate against the militants behind the drone strike — and some have urged him to strike Iranian territory, a move which risks widening the conflict in the Middle East, which U.S. officials have painstakingly taken steps to contain.
While the U.S. has not directly blamed Iran, Biden in a statement Sunday said the U.S. knew the attack was “carried out by radical Iran-backed militant groups” and vowed to hold “those responsible to account.”
Iran has denied involvement in the strike and has urged the U.S. to use diplomacy to ease tensions. Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said “active” diplomacy is underway to find a political situation to the war in Gaza and the regional fallout but did not detail those efforts.
The administration is considering ways to respond, though it believes a stronger reaction is warranted than in previous attacks where Americans were not killed, a person familiar with U.S. deliberations said.
Biden met with members of his national security team, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, to discuss the latest developments on Monday.
Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a group aligned with Iran, said Sunday it used drones to target four bases but did not say it had attacked Tower 22 in Jordan, where the deaths took place. IRI is one of several groups that have repeatedly targeted American forces in the region since Oct. 7, when Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union, attacked Israel. The U.S. has retaliated for earlier attack on its troops with missile strikes in Iraq and Syria.
Biden has supported Israel in its defense against Hamas and launched missile strikes on Yemen earlier this month to try to stop attacks being carried out by the Houthis, a group backed by Iran, on shipping in the Red Sea, a critical transport corridor.
But his response to the weekend strike portends to be one of the most significant of his administration as he seeks to deter Iran, which has been emboldened by the Israel-Hamas war, while keeping the U.S. from being dragged directly into a wider conflict.
His actions will also have stark consequences for the global economy, already facing fears of fresh tumult over the Houthi attacks on shipping. Higher oil prices risk undermining Biden’s efforts to tame inflation at home, a sensitive issue for American voters which has weighed on his reelection prospects.
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