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White House Struggles To Convince Allies That Iran Is Responsible For Tanker Attacks


The Trump administration is having a tough time convincing many of its allies that Iran is responsible for attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week. Several key allies say they need more evidence than the video of the attack the Pentagon has released. NPR's Jackie Northam looks at why the Trump administration is having credibility issues.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has spent the past several days pointing the finger of blame at Iran for the attacks on the tankers. On Sunday, he hit the television news shows, saying Iran's involvement was indisputable. Here he is on "Fox News Sunday."


MIKE POMPEO: There's no doubt. The intelligence community 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.

NORTHAM: Still, Pompeo suggested he has some work to do to convince U.S. allies about Iran's role in the attacks.


POMPEO: I made a number of calls to my colleagues around the world yesterday. I am confident we will have partners that understand this threat.

NORTHAM: The U.K. expressed cautious support, saying it had come to the conclusion it is almost certain Iran was involved in the attacks. But many European foreign ministers said they need more evidence. Germany's foreign minister, Heiko Maas, was blunt in saying the grainy video released by Central Command was quote, "not enough." Dr. Sanam Vakil is a senior research fellow at Chatham House, a London-based think tank.

SANAM VAKIL: I think this really speaks to the very big divide that exists between Washington and European allies.

NORTHAM: Vakil says much of the skepticism in Europe and elsewhere stems from frustration with the Trump administration's Iran policy, which they see as destabilizing. Vakil says they're angry the U.S. pulled out of the nuclear deal and is pursuing its so-called maximum pressure campaign. Today Iran said it will start ramping up its nuclear program.

VAKIL: I think that Europeans in general and policymakers are frustrated because they can't seem to work with Washington in coming up with a calibrated response that would protect the Iran nuclear agreement.

NORTHAM: John McLaughlin, former acting director of the CIA, says part of the problem is the Trump administration lacks credibility.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: People have to believe that what we say is true. And the problem for the administration is that so much of what it has said is demonstrably false that at this moment when we really need people to believe us, they are lacking in confidence.

NORTHAM: McLaughlin says there needs to be consistency of leadership and policy in order for the rest of the world to trust the U.S.

MCLAUGHLIN: A lot of reports that people like the national security adviser and the secretary of state are interested in regime change - Trump says he's not interested in regime change. A lot of pressures to go to war - Trump says he doesn't want to go to war.

NORTHAM: The Iraq war, which was based on flawed intelligence, also looms large. Dr. Volker Perthes is with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

VOLKER PERTHES: There is a history of proof - so-called proof - and intelligence coming from the American side regarding conflicts in the Persian Gulf area. So there is skepticism.

NORTHAM: Today the Pentagon released more images of the tanker attack, but it's unclear if that will be enough to sway the allies. Jackie Northam, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.