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Trump Appears To Downplay Drone Strike, Says ‘Hard To Believe’ Was Intentional

Congressional leaders depart after a meeting with President Donald Trump about Iran at the White House, Thursday, June 20, 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump appeared to downplay Iran’s shootdown of a U.S. drone, saying it likely was an error by “a general or somebody,” as both sides said they had evidence to prove the location of the craft when it was hit by a surface-to-air missile.

Trump’s remarks to reporters at the White House on June 20 came hours after he had taken a harsher tone, writing in a tweet that “Iran made a very big mistake.”

He was then asked whether the United States would strike Iran in retaliation, "You'll soon find out," he said.

In his later comments, the U.S. president said that "I think probably Iran made a mistake -- I would imagine it was a general or somebody that made a mistake in shooting that drone down."

"We had nobody in the drone. It would have made a big difference, let me tell you, it would have made a big, big difference" if the aircraft had carried a pilot, Trump said as he met Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House.

"It's hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth," he added. He suggested it could have been carried out by someone who was acting "loose and stupid" and characterized the incident as "a new wrinkle...a new fly in the ointment."

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) early on June 20 said it had shot down a U.S. "spy" drone that had turned off its tracking equipment as it flew over the southern province of Hormozgan -- saying the flight was a clear crossing of "our red line."

Iran's Foreign Ministry has condemned what it called a “provocative” incursion of the country’s airspace.

But the U.S. military said the surveillance aircraft had been flying over the Strait of Hormuz in international waters when it was shot down.

Late on June 20, the Pentagon released an image it said showed the flight path for the drone, but it did not immediately provide a detailed explanation of the photo.

Iran, meanwhile, said it has "irrefutable evidence" that the drone was in its airspace at the time.

"The evidence is clear and irrefutable, especially since some remains from the drone were found in Iranian waters," Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said.

Despite the rising tensions, U.S. officials, including Trump, and Iranian leaders have insisted they do not want to start a military conflict in the Persian Gulf.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on June 20 he was worried that Trump could "bumble" into a war with Iran. He added that there must be a public debate and a congressional decision on funding before any military operation could be launched.

"I told the president that these conflicts have a way of escalating," Schumer told reporters after meeting with officials at the White House.

"The president may not intend to go to war here, but we're worried that he and the administration may bumble into a war.”

Recent attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and near the Strait of Hormuz have also heightened tensions in the region, with Washington and its ally Saudi Arabia blaming Iran for the incidents. Tehran denies any involvement.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Reuters, dpa, and AFP