Unpacking President Trump's Latest Comments On Iran
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President Trump and Iran's leaders appear to be stepping back from a crisis that escalated fast over the last few days. After Iranian missile strikes at two bases with U.S. troops overnight, a senior Iranian official said the country had, quote, "concluded proportionate measures in self-defense." The U.S. president then spoke at the White House this morning.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
While the immediate crisis may be easing, there's no clarity on what's next in the long-running feud between the U.S. and Iran. The past few days may have only aggravated matters. Here's Iranian professor Mohammad Marandi of the University of Tehran speaking about President Trump.
SEYED MOHAMMAD MARANDI: Iranians have been strengthened. He's united Iranian society in a way which I think he hasn't comprehended, and he united Iraqi society against the United States in a way in which he and his administration haven't comprehended.
CORNISH: One of the big questions raised by the crisis is the future of U.S. forces in Iraq and elsewhere in the region. Again, here's Professor Marandi.
MARANDI: And I think that is going to be a serious challenge for the United States in the coming weeks and months. I don't think that as a result of this, U.S. position in Iraq is sustainable, and therefore, it's position in Syria is not sustainable, either. I think ultimately the United States will have to withdraw.
SHAPIRO: We have a lot to unpack today. And in a moment, we will hear from our co-host, Mary Louise Kelly, who is reporting this week from Tehran. First, we are joined here in the studio by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: President Trump sounds like he thinks this crisis is over. Is that an accurate reading?
MYRE: Probably. During the Iranian strike last night, there was great uncertainty. There seemed like there was this real risk that this could spiral out of control. In the light of day, we can see there was a fair amount of orchestration going on. Iran proved its point by firing what appears to be more than 20 ballistic missiles. These are powerful and precise weapons. But it looks like they wanted to avoid casualties when they went after these bases.
And the U.S. defense people are saying that the American early - an early warning system detected these missiles coming in and gave them plenty of time to take cover. The U.S. also had intelligence intercepts. It was preparing. It was bracing for an attack like this. And so these 300 American forces at the al-Assad base in western Iraq, which took most of the incoming missiles, they were well-prepared there. This allowed Trump to huddle with his national security advisers last night. They seemed to get the Iranian message. And it made it much easier, I think, because there were no U.S. casualties here as well.
SHAPIRO: And so if today everybody is sort of exhaling, what do you see when you look forward? What moves are the U.S. and Iran likely to make next?
MYRE: Well, President Trump sounded like he wanted to return to regularly scheduled programming. He hit some really familiar notes - Iran is a sponsor of terrorism, we'll impose more sanctions, we need to get a new nuclear deal.
But this eruption the past few days is something that's really been building since the U.S. pulled out of the nuclear deal two years ago. A month ago, the United States was not the focus in Iraq. We had protests in Iraq and Iran, large ongoing protests, very critical of the government. But as we've seen in this past 10 days, the focus has returned to the United States. It's probably going to be harder for - to return to a sort of a status quo.
SHAPIRO: Right. As you point out, things have changed from a week ago. I mean, one big change is that Iraq's Parliament voted to expel U.S. forces. We just heard from that Iranian professor who predicts it'll be tough for Americans to stay in Iraq and Syria. So what are you looking for on this front?
MYRE: I really think that is the central question in the short to medium term here. Can the U.S. keep forces in Iraq, as President Trump says he wants to do? Iraq is looking for a new prime minister. Whoever that might be will have to sort of address this demand for U.S. troops to leave. And Iran's goal is to have those U.S. troops leave. They'd be very happy to sit back and see the U.S. forced out.
Now, there are reasons for the U.S. to remain. One is to prevent a resurgence of ISIS. You also have these pro-Iranian militias that pose a potential threat. So there're reasons that the U.S. military wants to be there and reasons Iran and some Iraqis want them out
SHAPIRO: Another surprising thing in President Trump's comments this morning were the way he talked about NATO. In the past, he has tried to minimize NATO, distance the U.S. from it - not today.
MYRE: He threw out this line; he said the - NATO should be much more involved in the Middle East process. He didn't follow through. He didn't really say what that meant. But it really was quite jarring to hear that. Some NATO countries have troops in Iraq, but they may not be thrilled to be getting this request from a president who's been criticizing them so much.
And lastly, the president also talked about creating this new nuclear deal, but the other with Iraq - with Iran, rather, and the other signatories have been not so excited about leaving it. So he wants this help from allies, but these are allies he's been criticizing.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Greg Myre, thank you.
MYRE: My pleasure.
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