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Trump On Iran


Tensions with Iran crept very close to the edge this week after Iran shot down a U.S. drone. The president says the U.S. military had been, quote, "cocked and loaded to strike." But he decided to pull back because he did not believe the response would be, again, quote, "proportionate." Now, President Trump has said he'll put more economic pressure on Iran try to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're putting additional sanctions on. They're going on slowly and, in some cases, actually, pretty rapidly. But Iran - additional sanctions are being put on Iran.

SIMON: NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: The president, I gather, was on his way to Camp David when he was asked about Iran. Recount, first, what he said, please.

RASCOE: Well, so he went through a lot of what was talked about, yesterday, about this airstrike that he kind of - that he called off. He basically talked more about this timeline, which is still not really very clear, about when he got briefed about what would be the Iranian casualties from the airstrike. He says that he got numbers, but they were kind of rough at first. And then, he also says they hadn't made a final decision because he makes the final decision. But, ultimately, when he heard that it was 150 - it would be 150 lives lost from the strikes, he decided that he would not move ahead with this.

And so he talked about that. He also said that he still has confidence in national security adviser John Bolton, even though he said that Bolton is kind of more tough, more hawkish than him when it comes to the Middle East. Then, he didn't agree with Bolton when it came to Iraq. But he said that he likes having kind of different views on his team and that, ultimately, he said he's not a warmonger. He's not a dove. He's just someone who's trying to act with common sense.

SIMON: What did he say about sanctions?

RASCOE: So he said that more sanctions are going on, but we haven't gotten a lot of clarity on that from the administration. He - so they are saying that what we're hearing from the administration is that, right now, there may be some sanctions that are under consideration not necessarily tied to the downing of this drone. But we don't know any specifics on what's actually going to be put in place. And - but President Trump keeps saying that more sanctions are coming.

SIMON: What about any further prospects of military action?

RASCOE: So he did not take military action off the table. He said that as long as these issues are still there, first of all, he said that Iran cannot get nuclear weapons. And as long as there is a thought that they could be pursuing nuclear weapons, basically, these tensions will remain. And, until then, nuclear - I mean, until then, military action could be on the table. And so he didn't take that off, but he'd seem to make clear that he didn't want to do anything that would harm or that would deal with the taking of people's lives for actions - like downing of a drone - that did not involve the loss of U.S. lives. But he still was kind of warning Iran, saying that if they did anything bad, it would be their worst day and that it would be a huge mistake, essentially.

SIMON: I gather he also addressed the latest accusation of sexual misconduct against him. The White House denied the allegations of a woman who joins more than a dozen others from coming forward to say that she was sexually assaulted by Donald Trump. What did he say today?

RASCOE: Well, he said he doesn't know her. There is a picture of them together, not just him but them and other people in a photo from years ago. But President Trump says he didn't know - he doesn't know her. He called the - he basically said the accusation is false and said that he's being falsely accused. And he claimed that other women have been paid to make claims against him and basically just kind of said that this did not happen.

SIMON: Ayesha Rascoe at the White House. Thanks so much for being with us.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.