President Trump Says Iran Made 'A Very Big Mistake' In Shooting Down American Drone

Jun 20, 2019
Originally published on June 20, 2019 9:10 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There was meeting after meeting today in Washington about what happens next in the Persian Gulf now that Iran has down a U.S. Navy drone over the Strait of Hormuz. Tehran claims the drone was in Iranian airspace, while the U.S. says it was in international waters. President Trump has called Iran's actions a big mistake. But in a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump also downplayed the attack.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth. I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it. We'll be able to report back, and you'll understand exactly what happened. But it was a very foolish move. That, I can tell you.

SHAPIRO: Joining us now is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Any indication of what the U.S. response here will be?

LIASSON: No, we don't know because we don't - so far, the White House has sent very mixed messages all along on Iran. We've had the president tweet at one point that if Iran wants to fight, quote, "that will be the official end of Iran." But as you just heard, lately he's been much more conciliatory. He's told Time magazine that he considered the recent attacks on tankers in the Gulf as minor. He said he would go to war over nukes but not over these tactical attacks. And last night, he told Sean Hannity this.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HANNITY")

SEAN HANNITY: As you look at the geopolitical work up there - Iran, Russia, China - tell me your concerns.

TRUMP: Don't worry about a thing. Everything's under control. Don't worry about a thing.

LIASSON: So nothing to worry about. Trump sometimes presents as a kind of hawkish unilateralist. But everything he has said recently indicates he does not want a war with Iran. Today he reminded people that he had campaigned against wars in the Middle East. And even though he said the U.S. would not stand for this kind of attack on the drone, he really almost gave Iran a pass. You heard him just say somebody did something foolish. He made a point of saying there was no person in the drone. So losing an American life seems to be a redline for him, and it hasn't been crossed.

SHAPIRO: This seems so different from what his official and unofficial advisers have been saying, many of whom are much more hawkish.

LIASSON: Much more hawkish. In the past, both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton have sounded much more aggressive talking about regime change in Iran. Two of the president's big supporters in the Senate - Senators Tom Cotton and Lindsey Graham - have called for a military response. But today we did not hear from Bolton or Pompeo. All we know is that Bolton is going to Israel to talk to the Israelis and the Russians this weekend.

We have heard from critics of the president, even people who think Iran is a bad actor, saying that Trump doesn't have a coherent policy and that he's even responsible for some of this latest escalation because he pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal without a clearly thought-out strategy for what comes next. He put these crippling economic sanctions, the maximum pressure campaign, onto Iran with the assumption that it would cause Iran to change its behavior or sue for peace. But that hasn't happened.

SHAPIRO: He made these remarks sitting next to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who pointedly said he's looking to the international community to address the growing crisis. Talk about the challenges Trump faces keeping allies together on Iran policy.

LIASSON: Well, it's going to be hard. The allies didn't want him to pull out of the nuclear deal. The White House has lost some credibility with allies because Trump has told so many untruths. They also are suspicious. They think Pompeo and Bolton are looking for an excuse to go to war. So Trump's foreign policy has played well for his base, but it's left him isolated with less credibility with his allies.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.