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Escalating U.S.-Iran Tensions: Trump's Foreign Policy


It's been an eventful week in international affairs, both in matters of trade and national security, so we thought we'd spend the first part of the program today talking about president's approach to foreign policy with two people who know him. In a few minutes, we'll hear from Trump biographer Timothy O'Brien to get his thoughts about the president's past business strategy, specifically regarding China and trade, might tell us about his approach to foreign policy.

First, though, we're going to talk with a lawmaker who is deeply engaged with foreign policy issues - Congressman Lee Zeldin. He is a Republican. He represents New York's 1st Congressional District. He sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and he aligns with President Trump on a number of international issues.

Welcome to the program, Congressman. Thanks so much for joining us.

LEE ZELDIN: Of course. Happy to be with you.

MARTIN: A lot happened this week, but I want to start with Iran because you were a vocal critic of the Iran nuclear deal, which was negotiated by the prior administration. And I believe you agree with the president's decision to withdraw from it. That's correct?

ZELDIN: That is correct.

MARTIN: OK. So I wanted to ask you your view of how the administration is handling these heightened tensions with Iran right now.

ZELDIN: Well, it's very important when dealing with Iran understanding that they're not an ally of the United States. They are an adversary. They're - one, that they're a nation that is the world's largest state sponsor of terror. We often talk about the nuclear activity of Iran over the course last several years - but other activities where they've developed ICBMs in violation of international treaties and Security Council resolutions where they have worked to help the Houthis overthrow a foreign government in Yemen trying to build a land bridge across the Middle East to the West. They call Israel the little Satan and America the great Satan. And the list goes on.

So in dealing with Iran and understanding that they're an adversary, we also have to approach them knowing that they don't respect weakness. They only respect strength. And we're talking about the Iranian regime...


ZELDIN: ...Because Iran's filled with millions of very - you know, good people who want a free, stable, prosperous, democratic country for themselves. They've wanted it for a long time. So the administration's approach is with eyes wide open understanding this adversarial threat. And with regards to the leverage that brought the Iranians to the table in the first place, the problem with the JCPOA included - well, several things. One was sunset provisions, issues with the verification regime. So, you know, but I'd love to see which way you want to go from there because...


ZELDIN: ...It's a big question.

MARTIN: OK. So it does seem that it's been reported that the president's advisers are at odds. His national security adviser, John Bolton, is hawkish, seems very skeptical about any negotiations with Iran while the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, seems to want to de-escalate the conflict. Now, obviously, everyone should be very careful about committing troops to any conflict, so let's just take that as a given. But how do you interpret what's going on in the administration around this very sensitive and consequential issue? Some would argue that these things should have been worked out by now.

ZELDIN: Well, as far as any discussion with regards to the military option - and there are four instruments of national power, primarily - diplomacy, information, military, economics. It's the dying principle that we follow here as a nation. I believe and many others believe that the military option anywhere at any time should always be the absolute...


ZELDIN: ...Last possible option. The military option can serve as an effective deterrent. I do not believe that we should be pursuing the military option, you know, at this point...


ZELDIN: ...For anything other than as a deterrent.

MARTIN: OK. And finally, if I may, as briefly as you can, does President Trump have a doctrine? Can you articulate it?

ZELDIN: Well, it's one that seeks to strengthen relationships with allies in that region like Israel, to treat adversaries as adversaries, understand they don't respect weakness, only respect strength. You can't be silent not because you want war but because you want to prevent it.


ZELDIN: The challenges from one country to the next is - they're all very complicated.


ZELDIN: But it's - you know, it's a brief summary of a basic - few basic principles.

MARTIN: It absolutely is, and we will talk again about that. It's a complicated issue. That's Congressman Lee Zeldin, Republican from New York. Congressman, thanks so much for talking to us.

ZELDIN: Happy to. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.