Trump Vacillates Between Tough Talk On Iran, Deal Making Prospects | KGOU
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Trump Vacillates Between Tough Talk On Iran, Deal Making Prospects

Jan 9, 2020
Originally published on January 9, 2020 6:49 am
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

After a week of threats to Iran, President Trump, yesterday, chose to try and de-escalate tensions.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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.

MARTIN: For President Trump, it's an example of dueling instincts when it comes to Iran - talking tough and wanting a deal. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: When Iran promised retaliation for the U.S. killing of top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, President Trump issued a dire warning - if Iran struck U.S. personnel or assets, the U.S. would hit Iran very fast and very hard.

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TRUMP: If Iran does anything that they shouldn't be doing, they're going to be suffering the consequences - and very strongly.

KEITH: Then Iran did do something. Its missiles hit military installations used by U.S. troops in Iraq. There was no loss of life. And Trump's bellicose rhetoric was gone.

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TRUMP: The American people should be extremely grateful and happy.

KEITH: For Trump, a consistent part of his foreign policy doctrine is the inconsistency - the swings between threatening to use the full force of American military might and insisting he wants peace and to avoid more endless wars.

Michele Flournoy was undersecretary for defense in the Obama administration and is now managing partner at WestExec Advisors.

MICHELE FLOURNOY: From one tweet to the next, from one day to the next, you never know what he's going to say and, you know, what his approach will be. And I think for adversaries who are trying to figure out where the line is, very difficult to establish deterrence for them. And for allies, you know, it makes them very uncertain.

KEITH: Trump has claimed that is by design - keeping everyone off balance to get a better deal, in theory. But Flournoy argues he ends up working against himself. In September, shortly after an attack damaged two Saudi oil facilities, Trump took multiple positions on Iran...

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TRUMP: Iran knows if they misbehave, they're on borrowed time.

KEITH: ...All in the same answer.

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TRUMP: The easiest thing I could do - OK, go ahead. Knock out 15 different major things in Iran - I could do that and all set to go. It's all set to go. But I'm not looking to do that if I can.

KEITH: In the end, he imposed sanctions - which Sean Hannity told Trump in a Fox News interview wasn't what he was expecting.

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SEAN HANNITY: I was surprised you didn't hit Iran.

TRUMP: We have a lot of goodwill built up. They took down a drone; there was nobody in it. They took down a second drone; there was nobody in it. There's a lot of goodwill. They hit Saudi Arabia; we sent troops over to Saudi Arabia.

KEITH: The same day, Trump said this.

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TRUMP: I'm trying to get out of wars. We may have to get into wars, too. OK? We may have to get into wars.

KEITH: Trump has said repeatedly he wants U.S. troops out of the Middle East.

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TRUMP: At some point, we want to be able to get out. We want to bring our soldiers back home.

KEITH: And yet, there are more there now than before he took office. Flournoy says Trump's approach isn't strategic. It's tactical, transactional, impulsive.

FLOURNOY: I actually think he's an interesting mix of, on the one hand, wanting to appear the tough guy that nobody's going to mess with and - hence the bellicosity and the rhetoric - but also genuinely having an isolationist streak that says, why are we in the Middle East? I don't want to be in forever wars; I want to bring the troops home.

KEITH: Yesterday, again, Trump said he would choose sanctions instead of further military escalation. He even made a new pitch to negotiate a revised deal to end Iran's nuclear program.

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TRUMP: The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it.

KEITH: A peaceful message for the moment - and yet the underlying conflict remains.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVE BRUBECK'S "BLUE SHADOWS IN THE STREET") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.