Dual Hearings on Trump Iran Policy 05/21 06:11
As questions mount over President Donald Trump's tough talk on Iran, top
national security officials are heading to Capitol Hill to brief Congress. But
skeptical Democrats have asked for a second opinion.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- As questions mount over President Donald Trump's tough
talk on Iran, top national security officials are heading to Capitol Hill to
brief Congress. But skeptical Democrats have asked for a second opinion.
The competing closed-door sessions Tuesday, unusual and potentially
polarizing, come after weeks of escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf that
have raised alarms over a possible military confrontation with Iran. Lawmakers
are warning the Trump administration it cannot take the country into war
without approval from Congress, and the back-to-back briefings show the
wariness among Democrats, and some Republicans, over the White House's sudden
policy shifts in the Middle East.
Trump, veering between bombast and conciliation in his quest to contain
Iran, threatened Monday to meet provocations by Iran with "great force," but
also said he's willing to negotiate.
"We'll see what happens," Trump told reporters as he left the White House
for a campaign rally. He said Iran has been "very hostile."
"We have no indication that anything's happened or will happened, but if it
does, it will be met, obviously, with great force," Trump said. "We'll have no
Trump said while there are no talks with Iran he still wants to hear from
them, "if they're ready."
Over the past several weeks the U.S. has sent an aircraft carrier and other
resources to the Persian Gulf region, and evacuated non-essential personnel
from Iraq, amid unspecified threats the administration says are linked to Iran.
The administration is sending Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Defense
Secretary Patrick Shanahan and other top brass, including Gen. Joseph Dunford,
the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, for closed-door briefings Tuesday
with both the House and Senate.
But House Democrats, deeply skeptical of the information from the Trump
officials --- and mindful of the drumbeat of claims during the run-up to the
Iraq War --- invited former CIA Director John Brennan and former State
Department official Wendy Sherman, who negotiated the Iran nuclear deal.
Brennan, an outspoken Trump critic, does not have a formal briefing planned
but is prepared to answer questions on Iran --- and is willing to do the same
for Republicans, said a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized
to discuss it publicly. The intent, the person said, is to provide information
and not to be partisan.
Top Democrats say Trump escalated problems by abruptly withdrawing the U.S.
from the Iran nuclear deal, a complex accord negotiated during the Obama
administration to prevent the country from nuclear weapons production.
Trump's allies in Congress, including GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South
Carolina, say the threats from Iran are real. Graham urged Trump to "stand
firm" and said he received his own briefing over the weekend from John Bolton,
Trump's national security adviser.
"It is clear that over the last several weeks Iran has attacked pipelines
and ships of other nations and created threat streams against American
interests in Iraq," Graham tweeted. "If the Iranian threats against American
personnel and interests are activated we must deliver an overwhelming military
But Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona, an Iraq War veteran, tweeted
that after having received "the same" intelligence briefing, that was not his
"That is not what is being said. This is total information bias to draw the
conclusion he wants for himself and the media," Gallego tweeted.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said it's important to more fully understand the
situation. "I think Iranians think that our moves are offensive, we think their
moves are offensive, that's how you get into wars by mistake," he said.
Graham's reference to Iran having attacked ships appeared to be a further
indication that the U.S. military has concluded that Iran was behind the
reported attack May 12 on four commercial vessels off the coast of the United
At the outset of an investigation into those apparent attacks, which damaged
vessels of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Norway but caused no injuries, U.S.
officials had said they appeared to be carried out by Iran.
A U.S. official said Monday the probe was finished and evidence still
pointed at Iran, although the official did not provide details. The official
was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and so spoke on condition of
On Sunday, a rocket landed near the U.S. Embassy in the Green Zone of Iraq's
capital of Baghdad, days after nonessential U.S. staff were ordered to evacuate
from diplomatic posts in the country. No one was reported injured. Iraqi
military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasoul told The Associated Press that the
rocket was believed to have been fired from eastern Baghdad, an area home to
Iran-backed Shiite militias.
Defense officials said no additional Iranian threats or incidents had
emerged in the days since the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier battle group arrived
in the Arabian Sea late last week.
Iran, meanwhile, announced that it has quadrupled its uranium-enrichment
production capacity. Iranian officials made a point to stress that the uranium
would be enriched only to the 3.67% limit set under the 2015 nuclear deal with
world powers, making it usable for a power plant but far below what's needed
for an atomic weapon.
The state-run IRNA news agency quoted Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman of
the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, as acknowledging that capacity had been
quadrupled. He said Iran took this step because the U.S. had ended a program
allowing it to exchange enriched uranium to Russia for unprocessed yellowcake
uranium, as well as ending the sale of heavy water to Oman. Heavy water helps
cool reactors producing plutonium that can be used in nuclear weapons.
Tehran long has insisted it does not seek nuclear weapons, though the West
fears its program could allow it to build them.
Trump's remarks reflect what has been a strategy of alternating tough talk
with more conciliatory statements, which he says is aimed at keeping Iran
guessing at the administration's intentions.
He described his approach in a speech Friday, saying, "It's probably a good
thing because they're saying, 'Man, I don't know where these people are coming