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Trump's National Security Team Briefs Congress On Iran


NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is here. He was outside the hearing room where Pompeo and Shanahan briefed the House on Iran. And he spoke to members as they came out.

Hey there, Tom.


CORNISH: So we just heard from Congressman Gallego. What else did you hear on the Hill today?

BOWMAN: Well, it was really a mixed reaction and somewhat partisan, besides Congressman Gallego - what he had to say. Democratic Congressman Adam Smith, chair of the Armed Services Committee, was not all that convinced by the briefing by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Here's Congressman Smith.

ADAM SMITH: Secretary Pompeo made a very lengthy political argument. He argued, you know, here's all the terrible things that Iran have done. And he spent about 10 minutes - till I cut him off - making it - and as every member who stood up said, we know Iran is bad. OK? What is the policy going forward?

BOWMAN: And as he said, they got no reaction to the policy going forward. And other Democrats said the administration was kind of spinning all of this, that the threats were not all that new.

But then you have Republican Congressman Mac Thornberry of Texas. He's worried. He said Iran is clearly ramping things up. Let's listen.

MAC THORNBERRY: This is different. What has happened more recently is different. And obviously, that is what precipitated a movement of military forces to make it clear to Iran that if they attack Americans, there will be consequences.

BOWMAN: So again, Democrats were generally - were not all that surprised by what they heard, indicated this is kind of old stuff. Republicans said, no, it's a new threat from Iran, and the intelligence bears that out.

CORNISH: Did members of either party offer much detail about what they heard?

BOWMAN: No. Of course, it's all classified. So there's some bits and pieces I've been able to pick up over the past week or so. They wouldn't get into that.

Now, two military officials I spoke with previously said it is serious. The Iranian leadership has sent word to its Revolutionary Guard Corps to reach out to its proxies and attack the U.S. and its allies. These guys said it's pretty serious.

Now, Shanahan, the acting defense secretary, said the U.S. presence with the carriers and bombers sent to the Gulf actually thwarted attacks by Iranian proxies. He said Iran put them on hold - his words. And I'm told there was a threat to U.S. troops and facilities in Iraq. That was a specific threat, and now it is no more.

Here's the other thing - as far as the attacks - the recent attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf, as well as that attack on the Saudi pipeline by the Houthi rebels, some members said it was clearly Iranian proxies. That's what they heard in the hearing. But even Secretary Pompeo was not willing to go that far. He said in an interview this morning there is no definitive conclusion that Iran was behind it, and it's, quote, "quite possible Iran was behind these." So even the secretary of state isn't willing to say 100% Iran did that.

CORNISH: At this point, what does all this mean for U.S. policy?

BOWMAN: Well, no one knows. As Congressman Adam Smith said, what's - where is this going? They're worried about miscalculation, either from the U.S. or Iran. A shooting war could begin. And as Congressman Smith said, what's the objective here? Is it regime change, getting Iran to change its behavior? Where do you see this going? And as he said, there's no sense of that - anything going forward. And he said, if anything, Iran seems more eager to restart their nuclear program.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tom Bowman. Tom, thank you.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman
Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.