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What The White House Says About U.S. Attack On Iran's Soleimani


NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe is in our studios. Ayesha, good morning to you.


INSKEEP: A busy day. We have been told that only two administration officials are likely to say very much to the domestic media today, the secretary of state and the president of the United States. What are you hearing from them?

RASCOE: Well, so the president wasn't tweeting much overnight. That was unusual for him. But he did go back to tweeting this morning. And, basically, what he is saying is that Soleimani was plotting to kill many more Americans, and he got caught. And he tweeted that Soleimani should have been taken out years ago. And then you had Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In some TV interviews, he wouldn't get into the specifics of the threat that the administration saw and why they made - took this action just now. But he said that this strike saved lives. Here's more of what he had to say.


MIKE POMPEO: What was sitting before us was his travels throughout the region and his efforts to make a significant strike against Americans. There would've been many Muslims killed, as well, Iraqis, people in other countries, as well. It was a strike that was aimed at both disrupting that plot, deterring further aggression - we hope setting the conditions for de-escalation, as well.

INSKEEP: I guess we should mention Pompeo was not the only U.S. official talking about intelligence, about an impending attack. We also heard Mark Esper, the defense secretary, yesterday before we knew anything about this, saying the U.S. was prepared for preemptive strikes. They're casting this as a preemptive strike. We don't have the intelligence though right. We don't know what this supposed attack was or exactly what information the United States has about it.

RASCOE: No, they have not released that information yet.

INSKEEP: Now, the administration next faces the question of where it wants this to go. President Trump has not been a fan of large Middle East wars.

RASCOE: No, he hasn't. The way the administration seems to be kind of casting this at this moment is that it has to keep Americans safe and that this action will make Americans more safe. But even as they say that, the State Department is telling Americans in Iraq that they need to get out immediately and that they shouldn't go toward - they shouldn't approach the embassy. And so there's no doubt that more troops are likely to get into the region. We've already had more going there, going to Iraq after this attack on the embassy. And so this is not - this doesn't seem like it's setting the stage for what President Trump had talked about, which is pulling U.S. troops out of the Middle East.

INSKEEP: Iran has repeatedly engaged in strikes against the United States in recent months, apparently confident that President Trump doesn't want to go to war. Does it seem like the opposite is now true? President Trump is comfortable going after Iran, confident that they really don't want a full-scale war against the United States, either?

RASCOE: Well, the president seems to be going back and forth. He always says that he wants peace. He doesn't want war. He takes these steps where he - it seems like he doesn't want to respond to certain provocations. But then he goes and does what happened yesterday and takes out Soleimani. So I guess if you talk to the administration, maybe they feel like they're keeping Iran on their toes, but it's not really clear exactly what he wants to do.

INSKEEP: And the U.S. talked about a red line being crossed because an American was killed in Iraq and also talked about this preemptive strike. Ayesha, thanks very much for your insights. Really appreciate it.

RASCOE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ayesha Rascoe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.