President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE on Tuesday questioned whether Iranian leaders are “too proud or too foolish” to negotiate with the United States for sanctions relief, saying it is up to them to come to the table.
“In recent months, we have seen proud Iranians raise their voices against their oppressive rulers,” Trump said during his third State of the Union address. “The Iranian regime must abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons, stop spreading terror, death and destruction and start working for the good of its own people."
“Because of our powerful sanctions, the Iranian economy is doing very, very poorly,” he added. “We can help them make a very good and short time recovery. It can all go very quickly, but perhaps they are too proud or too foolish to ask for that help. We are here. Let's see which road they choose. It is totally up to them.”
Trump made the comments while defending his Iran policy, which critics have blasted as reckless while Washington and Tehran teetered on the brink of war in January.
U.S.-Iran tensions have skyrocketed since Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and last year reimposed all sanctions that had been lifted under the 2015 deal. Since Trump withdrew the U.S. from the accord, Iran has been breaching limits of the Obama-era agreement one-by-one in an effort to pressure the United States to lift sanctions or to push Europe to find a workaround to the sanctions.
The confrontation between Washington and Tehran came to a head in early January when Trump ordered a drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s powerful Quds Force.
Iran retaliated with a missile strike on an Iraqi military base housing U.S. troops, resulting in traumatic brain injuries for at least 64 U.S. troops. But for now, the military tit-for-tat has not continued.
Critics blasted Trump’s decision to order the strike on Soleimani, arguing it ratcheted up tensions in the region. Democrats and some Republicans have also excoriated the Trump administration for offering shifting explanations for the strike, from citing Soleimani’s past attacks to claiming he was planning new attacks.
In Tuesday’s speech, Trump again claimed Soleimani was “actively planning new attacks” but did not elaborate. His administration has been criticized for not offering evidence of any imminent attacks.
Trump also defended the strike by highlighting two of his guests for the State of the Union speech: Kelli Hake and Gage Hake. Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Hake, Kelli’s husband and Gage’s father, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2008.
“The terrorist responsible for killing Sgt. Hake was Qassem Soleimani, who provided the deadly roadside bomb that took Chris's life,” Trump said. “Soleimani was the Iranian regime's most ruthless butcher, a monster who murdered or wounded thousands of American service members in Iraq.”
Trump told the Hakes that “Chris will live in our hearts forever," adding "he is looking down on you now." Kelli Hake teared up as Trump recounted story of her husband's death, while Gage Hake comforted his mom by patting her on the shoulder.
“Our message to the terrorists is clear: You will never escape American justice,” Trump added. “If you attack our citizens, you forfeit your life.”