National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien On Iran For the latest on the confrontation between the U.S. and Iran, NPR's Steve Inskeep spoke with National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien at the White House on Thursday.
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National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien On Iran

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National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien On Iran

National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien On Iran

National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien On Iran

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For the latest on the confrontation between the U.S. and Iran, NPR's Steve Inskeep spoke with National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien at the White House on Thursday.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Here in Washington, we've been questioning an aide to the other president in this confrontation - President Trump's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien. He met today with Steve Inskeep of NPR's Morning Edition. Steve joins us in the studio now.

Welcome back.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Hey there, Audie.

CORNISH: So how different was this view than what we just heard?

INSKEEP: Completely the opposite of what we just heard, which is often true when you listen to the United States government and Iran's government. We met the national security adviser at the old Executive Office building. It's this dramatic Victorian pile of columns and arches next to the White House. O'Brien is a lawyer who's now running the national security machinery, the people who help the president make decisions. And one thing they have to think about is, is this immediate confrontation with Iran over? Iran's U.S. ambassador told us on NPR that it is over. Iran has retaliated and is done. But he added, we are not responsible for what allied militias might do - you know those groups like the militias in Iraq that are linked with Iran, as well as in Lebanon and other places. And that raised a question for O'Brien.

Does the United States hold Iran responsible for what its allies may do?

ROBERT O'BRIEN: Well, look. We've made it very clear that when Iranian proxies that are directed by Iran attack Americans, that we're going to hold the Iranians responsible. And they understand that. And, you know, that's one of the reasons why we had to engage in a number of military operations recently.

INSKEEP: And you sense there, Audie, how volatile the situation is. Remember. This latest confrontation began when an Iraqi militia linked with Iran killed an American contractor. That's what led to the crisis. And here we have a warning that it could happen again. And we should note that over the last day or so, someone in Iraq has been lobbing missiles near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

CORNISH: Given the risk you've described, how strong is support for the president in the White House, outside the White House, for this course of action?

INSKEEP: Well, outside the White House, there are some questions from Democrats, as you would expect, who've been critical of his course, but also from a few Republicans; one of them, Mike Lee of Utah, who affirmed to us on NPR today that he didn't get answers he wanted in an administration briefing.

CORNISH: Was very dismissive of that briefing, in fact.

INSKEEP: Extremely scornful - considered it one of the worst briefings he'd ever heard. Adam Smith, a Democrat who's the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said that he heard from top military officials, but they were unable to tell him the time or place of any attack that Iran had planned before Iranian General Qassem Soleimani was killed. So we asked Robert O'Brien about that. He insisted the intelligence was good and that an attack was imminent.

O'BRIEN: People would have criticized us for not having disrupted the attacks. So...

INSKEEP: Did you know the time and place of the attacks that were being planned?

O'BRIEN: We had very good intelligence that there was an imminent attack...

INSKEEP: But time and place.

O'BRIEN: ...Being planned - it was imminent. You know, you never know the time and place of these things with perfect particularity. But we had very good information that there were imminent attacks planned against Americans.

INSKEEP: But didn't know the time and place, and that plainly wasn't enough for some lawmakers.

CORNISH: This is a president who promised to end endless wars. Is he comfortable with all this?

INSKEEP: Well, the national security adviser insisted the president is and that the U.S. has the resources to box in Iran in the long term while doing other things that the U.S. wants to do. But the reality is his national security team approved a strategy focusing more resources on what they call peer competitors, like China and Russia. It doesn't mean you can't also confront Iran. The U.S. has a lot of resources. But Iran is not China. Iran is not Russia. And, in fact, the U.S. has been having to turn to China for help in its efforts to isolate Iran.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Steve Inskeep. You can hear him on Morning Edition.

Steve, thanks so much.

INSKEEP: Glad to be here.

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