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News Brief: Iran Sanctions, Middle East Peace Plan, Oregon Politics


Just days ago, the Trump administration was set to drop bombs on Iran. Now it's back to sanctions.


The president says the United States will impose more sanctions today, and there were already a lot. These sanctions are in retaliation for Iran shooting down an American drone the other day. Yahoo News is reporting that the U.S. authorized cyber-attacks on Iran. We have not independently confirmed that, but cyber moves against Iran have been made in the past. Over the weekend, National Security Adviser John Bolton said that military action remains an option, and so did Vice President Pence. He was on CNN's State Of The Union Sunday days after President Trump abruptly called off airstrikes.


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.

MARTIN: All right. We've got NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez in the studio with us this morning. So Franco, when the president pulls back a strike on Iran, that suggests that his administration is not all in lockstep. Has that changed at all?

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Depending on who you ask. Certainly the senior administration officials I have spoken to say that they are in lockstep, that this is a united front. Certainly there was resolve to go through with the strikes when President Trump pulled back. But as they have said, they said this is the president's decision, it's his final decision. But there are resolve to do it. And you're seeing it on Sunday with all the different cabinet members saying, look, this is not over. We are going to continue to push the envelope here.

INSKEEP: Vice President Pence notably managed to say he supported the airstrikes when they were ordered and also supported the decision not to order the airstrikes.

MARTIN: So new sanctions. This is something we have seen time and time again. This is the U.S.'s favorite tool when it comes to try to influence Iran. But as Steve noted, there are already so many crushing sanctions against the Iranian economy. What more is left to be sanctioned?

ORDOÑEZ: Absolutely. President Trump mentioned major additional sanctions. And as you said, there are a lot that have gone up. You know, President Trump often talks about major things happening that turn out to be not as major that we expected. That said, Secretary Pompeo also said that 80% of the Iranian economy is sanctioned. And what they want to do is kind of turn the screws a little bit more on the economy. But it is also true that some of those sanctions and some of those penalties that they've put on the Iranian economy have not been in effect for so long. When they pulled out - when they reinstated the sanctions, that has been only about a year. They also implemented new oil penalties trying to prevent many different countries from selling - from buying Iranian oil. That is a significant thing. That's only been in effect since the spring.


ORDOÑEZ: And they want to give some time for those things to take effect.

MARTIN: So presumably this is to try to get Iran back to the negotiating table on the nuclear deal. It is impossible, Franco, to ignore the fact that this standoff with Iran is happening just days after the president just launched a re-election campaign, right?

ORDOÑEZ: Absolutely. It has been just a few days, and that is why the president cannot not do anything. And not only are some leaders, some members of Congress, some officials saying that you cannot not do anything because it could embolden Iran to take action, to put not only U.S. interests in threat, but also some of our key allies such as Israel. But also, Lindsey Graham pointed out that, if you do not take action now, then people will know that President Trump is all talk. And with an election coming down the pipe, President Trump cannot afford to look weak.

MARTIN: NPR's Franco Ordoñez with the latest on the situation with Iran. Franco, thanks. We appreciate it.

ORDOÑEZ: It's great to be here.


MARTIN: All right. The Trump administration is set to discuss part one of its Middle East peace plan this week in Bahrain. But how can you have peace talks if neither side of the conflict shows up?

INSKEEP: We'll soon find out because the Palestinians are boycotting this summit and Israeli officials were not invited. What's on the table here is a multibillion-dollar proposal to invest in the Palestinian economy. The White House unveiled this plan over the weekend.

MARTIN: For more, we've got NPR's Daniel Estrin on the line from Jerusalem. Hey, Daniel.


MARTIN: So solving the crisis in the Middle East - how does the Trump administration propose to do that?

ESTRIN: Well, it's got a Marshall Plan - is what it's calling it. Twenty-eight billion dollars for the Palestinians and many more other billions of dollars for other countries in the region. They've got a 95-page spreadsheet of projects that the White House wants to do, like upgrading Palestinian hospitals and roads and trade. And the White House is saying this could create a million jobs in the Palestinian territories, so very ambitious proposal. But one thing is missing, a very big thing, and that is it does not answer the big political questions of the conflict. You know, will the Palestinians get to control their own borders? Will they get their own country? And Jared Kushner, who's the president's point man leading this whole effort - he was asked by Reuters - are you going to address those political issues now? And here's what he said.


JARED KUSHNER: When we're ready. Again, that's - again, saying we've been working on now for two years. It's a very extensive document. Something that I do think will, again, make people look at this a little bit differently and hopefully bring people to the table to start having a discussion about how to resolve these longstanding issues. But that's a separate topic, and it's - and we'll deal with it at a later date.

MARTIN: What do Palestinians in particular make of that? Because they would benefit presumably a great deal by this kind of financial investment.

ESTRIN: They would. And Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gave a press conference last night. I was there. He refused to say if he even read the White House proposal. He said, money is important, but a political solution is more important. The Palestinians think the U.S. just wants to throw money at them, but, you know, not let them have what they want which is real independence in their own state. He even said quote, "we will not be slaves or servants of Kushner." As for Israel, the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said, we'll keep an open mind. And he blamed the Palestinians for being the ones rejecting the U.S. proposal, although he said that while he was taking National Security Adviser John Bolton on a tour in the West Bank and making the argument that a part of the West Bank that borders Jordan should always stay in Israel's control and so, you know, signaling what he wants to see in the future.

MARTIN: Mmm hmm.

ESTRIN: Then John Bolton said he supported that approach. So, you know, it's not just the Palestinians, by the way, who are criticizing this White House plan. The ambassador to Israel under George W. Bush, Daniel Kurtzer, tweeted that he would give this so-called plan a C-minus from an undergraduate student. The authors of this plan clearly understand nothing.


ESTRIN: The bottom line that we're hearing is, you know, you can't address these economic questions without understanding the political questions.

MARTIN: Well, I guess I don't understand how the summit this week in Bahrain is happening at all. I mean, if the Palestinians are boycotting - Israeli officials aren't even going, right? So is this dead on arrival if the two parties that this is all about - if they're not even showing up?

ESTRIN: Right. It could be. I mean, the White House says they're inviting Arab countries and investors, and they want feedback for the plan and to coordinate investments. But yeah, the main parties are not going to be there.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Daniel Estrin from Jerusalem this morning. Daniel, thanks.

ESTRIN: Sure thing.


MARTIN: Some Republican lawmakers in Oregon are in hiding.

INSKEEP: Or at least outside the state of Oregon. They are state senators who have fled the jurisdiction because they want to prevent a quorum that is necessary for lawmakers to do business. The Republicans are blocking a climate change bill. It would place a cap on greenhouse gas emissions and auction off pollution allowances, all part of an effort to dramatically reduce carbon emissions from Oregon by the year 2050.

MARTIN: Dirk VanderHart covers Oregon politics and government for Oregon Public Broadcasting, and he joins us from Portland this morning. So Dirk, just explain what's in this bill. What makes it so controversial that Republicans have taken this move?

DIRK VANDERHART, BYLINE: Yeah. You guys laid it out pretty well. You know, this limits greenhouse gas emissions and begins charging polluters for every ton they emit. But what Republicans are arguing is that it's going to be very detrimental to their rural districts, so they cite things like rising fuel costs or a rise just in the cost of doing business by virtue of paying for greenhouse gas emissions as things that are going to, you know, force companies to leave, force layoffs, really create problems for these more rural places. So they have been trying to do anything they can to keep this bill from passing. And that last week resulted in the very dramatic instance of them walking off. They left Thursday and have not been back since and are being fined $500 a day.

MARTIN: Do we know exactly where they are?

VANDERHART: There are a lot of rumors flying around. Montana is often mentioned, Idaho, some say they might be in Washington. No one seems to know for sure. Idaho seems to be the leading theory for folks, but who knows?


VANDERHART: They might be moving around.

MARTIN: So another rumor circulating is that militia groups have become involved. I mean...


MARTIN: ...Can you either clarify that, dismiss the rumor? What do we know?

VANDERHART: We don't know much. Militia members have been very vocal online, as they often are, and they talk about, you know, vowing to assist these senators should the state police come for them. Some have even claimed, you know, in Idaho that they have been helping them. But when you talk to the senators about this, those that will be, you know - will answer your calls, they say that's not happening. They say they haven't been chatting with the militias at all. Nonetheless, though, concern over this militia involvement led the capital to close on Saturday.


VANDERHART: And that's because state police here told Democratic leadership that there was a credible threat, quote-unquote, "credible threat." Details on that have not been disclosed. And we should say that demonstrations did take place at the capital over the weekend. They were mild, they were relatively small. Everything was peaceful.

MARTIN: Uh-huh. So Oregon's legislative session ends at the end of the week...


MARTIN: So how's this going to play out? I mean, could the Republican legislators just run out the clock here?

VANDERHART: They can run out the clock in this current legislative session, but that does not mean they're ultimately going to be able to stop this. The governor here, Kate Brown, has already begun taking steps to call a special session of the legislature on July 2. So that would mean, you know, budget bills and policy bills that have not passed would essentially have to be reset and they would have to start pushing them through afresh. We should note, though, that there's nothing that says Republicans will show up to that special session either. So the sides are going to have to come to an agreement here, and right now that seems pretty hard to find.

MARTIN: How is the public watching all this? I mean, are people tracking this closely?

VANDERHART: Very closely. And there is even a hashtag, the #Oregon11, that is cheering these senators on from afar, calling them heroes.

MARTIN: Huh. Politics reporter Dirk VanderHart with Oregon Public Broadcasting, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

VANDERHART: My pleasure.


Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.