STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
What does the United States mean to do to Iran, given that it's not opening fire, at least for the moment? President Trump called off airstrikes after Iran shot down a U.S. drone. But the president now says the U.S. will impose new economic sanctions. And Vice President Pence alluded to further actions on CNN.
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VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Iran should not mistake restraint for a lack of resolve. All options remain on the table. The United States is going to defend our troops and America's interests in the region.
INSKEEP: Now, on NBC the president said he is willing to discuss the central dispute - Iran's nuclear program.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You can't have nuclear weapons. And if you want to talk about it, good. Otherwise, you can live in a shattered economy for a long time to come.
INSKEEP: The U.S. withdrew last year from a nuclear agreement with Iran and has increased economic pressure on Iran ever since. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez has been covering this story. He's in our studios. Good morning.
FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: This certainly isn't over, is it?
ORDOÑEZ: It is not over. Look, the president's team came out this weekend, united, trying to bat down any concerns that there may be that Iran may be emboldened by the president's, you know, quote-unquote, "lack of action" that some concerned. The president is promising strong, more crushing sanctions.
And look, Bolton is - national security adviser John Bolton is also talking about military option is still a possibility. So there is a lot to go here. Look, some have said that pressure does work on Iran. It has in the past, arguably, but that was international pressure. This, in this case, is more as unilateral effort.
INSKEEP: I guess we should be clear first on what we think the White House means by saying a military option is a possibility. It would seem the president has ruled out a military option in response for this drone shoot down - right? - because he said that would not be proportionate. What we're hearing from the White House is if there are more actions by Iran, that military options would be on the table. Is that correct?
ORDOÑEZ: Yes, that is correct.
INSKEEP: OK. And then there's the question of economic sanctions. Given that the United States has already put so many economic sanctions, what more is there left to do?
ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, it's a great question. It's very interesting. The president promised major additional sanctions. But what can he do? That isn't really clear. The president has often talked about major things happening, and they turn out not so major - or at least not as major as we expect. One thing, though, that the president and his team want to do is they do want to give some time for the existing sanctions to take effect.
There are several sanctions that were put back in place when the United States backed out of the nuclear deal. Those target energy, shipping and the financial sector. They have had a dramatic impact on the Iranian economy and really strangled their ability to get resources.
INSKEEP: So I want to try to understand what the president's longer-term goal is here, Franco. We did hear him just say he's willing to talk about a new nuclear deal. But based on your reporting, is that the president's goal? I mean, there's several possible goals here. One is a new nuclear agreement. Another is regime change in Iran. Another is some kind of pretext for war with Iran. There may be other options that I could imagine. Do you feel you understand what the president's true goal is?
ORDOÑEZ: I mean, it's always really difficult to say what is in the president's mind. But from our reporting, certainly he is looking for a new deal, a stronger deal, a deal that was better than the one worked out by his predecessor, President Barack Obama. And he has been pushing back on some of his advisers - top advisers who have wanted stronger measures, including regime change. The president very clearly does not want to end up in another war.
INSKEEP: And I guess we should note from this incident last week, at least based on what we were told about it, we have an example of that. There appeared to have been a consensus to go ahead and launch strikes against Iran, and it was the president who pulled back at the last moment.
ORDOÑEZ: Absolutely. I spoke with senior administration officials after that, and they told me that their decision - that all advisers, security advisers and defense advisers were in support of the decision, the response decision. And it was President Trump who backed out of the deal, who made the final decision not to take action.
INSKEEP: Is the president worried at all about looking weak?
ORDOÑEZ: That is an issue, certainly. All his advisers are saying that, particularly on the political stint. People like Lindsey Graham are saying, you need to take steps, some type of action, or you will look like you're all talk.
INSKEEP: OK. Franco, thanks so much.
ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Franco Ordoñez. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.