Trump Administration Insists Iran Is Responsible For Tanker Attacks
NOEL KING, HOST:
Earlier today, Iran threatened to increase its stockpile of enriched uranium. That would break the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal. President Trump, of course, withdrew the United States from that deal. But until now, Iran has said it would stick to its commitments. Iran insists it doesn't want to build a nuclear bomb, but these enrichment stockpiles would put it in the range of what it would need to build a weapon.
Now, all of this is happening as the Trump administration insists that Iran is responsible for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week. Here's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on "Fox News Sunday."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")
MIKE POMPEO: There's no doubt. The intelligence committee has lots of data, lots of evidence. The world will come to see much of it. But the American people should rest assured we have high confidence with respect to who conducted these attacks as well as a half a dozen other attacks throughout the world over the past 40 days.
KING: All right. On the line with me now, former vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army, retired General Jack Keane. Good morning, General.
JACK KEANE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: Are you concerned at all with the news this morning that Iran says it will increase its enriched uranium stockpiles?
KEANE: Well, I actually thought they would do something like that. What they're trying to do is put more pressure on the international community to entice the United States, you know, to back down. Their strategy is - it's pretty obvious because crippling sanctions are certainly hurting their economy, which has contracted 6%. Inflation is 37%. Their currency is devalued rather dramatically. Food shortages, power outages and growing civil unrest are the issues they are facing. And as we know now - our intelligence services told us they've had to pull back some of the funding for their proxies, which is their main foreign policy instrument that they use to control and influence the Middle East. So...
KING: That region. Well, let me ask you. If Iran wants to get the U.S.'s attention - and that's what they're doing with this announcement this morning - how should the U.S. respond?
KEANE: Well, I think, you know, what these activities that the Iranians have conducted in terms of disrupting commercial tankering in the Persian Gulf, that's also there, trying to put pressure on the international community because, you know, oil prices are going up. Disruption - the flow of oil is disrupted. Half of the world's economy depends on that artery of oil coming out of the Middle East.
I think what we're going to see here from the administration - I don't have inside information; I don't ever seek it - but just thinking through the issue is, one, inform our allies of the intelligence that we have and, also, attempt to gain their support for increased level of activity. And I think that's the phase we're in right now. The second thing I think we'll see is likely a coalition to support and escort tankers going through the Persian Gulf - through the Straits (ph) of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman specifically. And Iran will likely react to that, and we will have to respond. But I do think...
KEANE: ...It's likely...
KING: Let me ask you. You talk about a coalition, and I want to ask you about our allies. Germany's foreign minister says the video that CENTCOM provided that said - you know, it shows evidence of Iranians removing a mine from the boat - the side of a boat. Germany says that's not sufficient. The Japanese government says they want more evidence. Is it normal for our allies to be so skeptical? And if they are, as they appear to be, what does that mean for the U.S.?
KEANE: Well, I think the evidence is there. And Secretary Pompeo, you know, promised to provide additional evidence. Our intelligence committee have seen all the evidence. Adam Schiff, who's certainly no supporter of this administration - he is the head of that committee. And he says the evidence is overwhelming and compelling - are his words, not mine.
KING: He did say that.
KEANE: So I think it's just a matter of what I'm saying. We're in a phase here where we're going to get this information to our allies, get their support and begin to protect this commercial artery of oil, you know, that the world so depends on. And clearly, by disrupting that, you know, Iran wants to put more pressure on the United States to back off on the sanctions, which is the first time that we have seen any Democratic or Republican administration since Iran began this campaign to malign and aggressive behavior 39 years ago and has had significant success in the region with it - Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, to be sure; political influence in Iraq and undermining the other countries in the region, not even to speak of sponsoring world terrorism - that I think we have an opportunity here - no guarantee of it - but to begin to curb their behavior.
KING: How combustible do you think this situation is, in the last few seconds we have left?
KEANE: I think it is. You know, Reagan, in doing the same thing in guaranteeing commercial shipping in the late 1980s, had to escalate and had to take down two world platforms and two staging bases of naval shipping that the IRGC used. We're probably on that path - limited, measured activity.
KING: Former vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army retired General Jack Keane. General, thanks for your time this morning.
KEANE: Yeah. Great talking to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.