Julian E. Barnes, Catie Edmondson and Emily Cochrane
c.2019 New York Times News Service
WASHINGTON — Top U.S. national security officials sought to convince a divided Congress about the seriousness of new threats from Iran as they defended intelligence that has prompted military deployments aimed at deterring attacks by Tehran.
Democrats emerged from the classified briefings on Capitol Hill with sharp questions about whose actions ultimately led to the recent escalation: Tehran’s or the Trump administration’s.
Late last week, Iran removed some missiles it had stationed on small boats in its territorial waters — a step U.S. officials said was a sign that Iran was seeking to ease tensions. On Tuesday, U.S. officials said Iran had threatened to target those missiles at Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure to drive up oil prices and disrupt international trade.
Recent intelligence has indicated that Iran was considering such attacks in response to tough U.S. sanctions against Iran’s oil sector and the administration’s decision to designate the paramilitary arm of Iran’s government a terrorist organization, according to two officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the analysis publicly.
“Are they reacting to us, or are we doing these things in reaction to them? That is a major question I have, that I still have,” Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said after the closed-door briefings.
“The most immediate concern is the danger of miscalculation,” King said. “What we view as defensive, they view as provocative. Or vice versa.”
In separate meetings with senators and representatives, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan outlined the intelligence that prompted the United States to send an aircraft carrier, bombers and missile defense systems to the Persian Gulf region this month.
“We have deterred attacks based on our reposturing of assets, deterred attacks against American forces,” Shanahan said after briefing lawmakers. “Our biggest focus at this point is to prevent Iranian miscalculation. We do not want the situation to escalate. This is about deterrence, not about war.”
Reactions have fallen along the usual partisan divide. Republicans praised President Donald Trump for his stance, while Democrats who viewed the same intelligence reports came away with a more skeptical view.