Trump administration and political allies raise stakes for action against Iran

This Jan. 15, 2011 file photo, shows a part of Arak heavy water nuclear facilities, near the central city of Arak, 150 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran. Iran will break the uranium stockpile limit set by Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in the next 10 days, the spokesman for the country’s atomic agency said Monday June 17, 2019, while also warning that Iran has the need for uranium enriched up to 20%, just a step away from weapons-grade levels. (Mehdi Marizad/Fars News Agency via AP, File)

By Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver

Talk of military confrontation escalated over the weekend as U.S. leaders described what should happen next after two oil tankers were reportedly attacked at sea in the Middle East last week.

The United States blames the tanker explosions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, but Iran has strenuously denied involvement.

Today, Iran announced it will break from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal within 10 days and exceed limits set on its uranium stockpile, warning that the country has a need for uranium enriched up to 20 percent, a step away from weapons-grade (The Associated Press). Iran says its situation is the result of the increased sanctions and gradual fraying of the international nuclear pact following the Trump administration’s withdrawal last year.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continued to defend intelligence that he says makes clear that Iran’s elite military unit initiated an attack on ships sailing in the Gulf of Oman.

The secretary repeated Sunday that President Trump does not want war in the Middle East but has not ruled out a range of possible responses, including military action.

“The United States is considering a full range of options,” Pompeo told CBS News in an interview. “We are confident that we can take a set of actions that can restore deterrence which is our mission set.”

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged Trump to order a military strike against Iran.

“The president has the authorization to act to defend American interests,” Cotton told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “What I’m talking about is not like what we’ve seen in Iraq for the last 16 years or Afghanistan for the last 18 years, but retaliatory military strikes against Iran that make it clear we will not tolerate any kind of attacks on commercial shipping on the open seas,” he said.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) affirmed the administration’s intelligence implicating Iran but warned on Sunday that Pompeo and White House national security adviser John Bolton, whose hawkish views of Tehran are well known, have narrowed Trump’s options to avert use of military force (The Hill).

Schiff called the idea that a sustained pressure campaign could force Iran back to the negotiating table “dangerously naive,”,” saying Iranian aggression was proof that the U.S. withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal “has not made us safer.”

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D), who deployed to Afghanistan in 2017 as an intelligence officer with the U.S. Navy Reserve and is now seeking the presidency, said the Trump administration embraced a policy of aggravating tensions with Iran’s government when it tore up participation in a nuclear deal negotiated under former President Obama.

“Any negotiation is going to have to meet the needs and the realities of the moment. Unfortunately, the moment we’re in is one where the United States influence in this region has diminished because of the way that we have withdrawn,” Buttigieg said, echoing cautious misgivings voiced by leading Democrats.

“So, what we’re going to have to do is re-engage with our partners, re-engage with anybody who has an interest in stability in the region and do whatever we can to once again meet the objective of stopping Iran from developing nuclear capabilities, which is exactly what that [2015 nuclear] deal was doing.”

The New York Times: “Full-scale economic warfare”: The question now is whether escalation of tensions prevails inside the White House and in Tehran or if instincts to back away from direct confrontation kick in.

The Washington Post: A standoff with Iran exposes Trump’s credibility issues as some allies seek additional proof of tanker attack. 

The Hill: Five things to know about last week’s attack.

Christopher J. Bolan, opinion contributor, Defense One: Deterrence is failing, partially because Iran has no idea what the United States really wants. U.S. policymakers need to conduct an honest assessment of where and why U.S. policies have failed to deter Iranian actions.

James Downie, opinions editor, The Washington Post: The danger of Sen. Cotton.

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