U.S.-Iran tensions continue to rise after apparent attacks, military deployments

JUDY WOODRUFF: This past week, the already
difficult relationship between the U.S. and Iran has become even more tense. Administration officials have warned that
they would respond with — quote — “unrelenting force” to any Iranian attack. Tehran has threatened to exceed caps on its
nuclear program. And, today, Saudi Arabia says that rebels
in Yemen who are believed to be backed by Iran staged a major attack. Our Nick Schifrin is here with an update. Hello, Nick. NICK SCHIFRIN: Hi, Judy. JUDY WOODRUFF: So what do we know to be behind
this attack today on a Saudi Arabian oil pipeline? NICK SCHIFRIN: So, the Saudis are accusing
the Houthis, who, as you said, are believed to be backed by Iran and who are fighting
Saudi Arabia inside of Yemen, of launching an armed drone against two Saudi pumping stations
inside Saudi Arabia. And the Houthis did claim credit for this. And one Saudi official says, look, this is
a game-changer. We have seen attacks by Houthis before, but
we have never seen an attack with this level of precision, never flown so far from their
bases in Yemen with an armed drone. And they have never hit state-owned oil targets
with such success. That’s according to a Saudi official. A former U.S. intelligence official with experience
in Saudi Arabia says, well, let’s take this with a grain of salt. The Houthis have used drones before. They have attacked oil facilities in Saudi
Arabia. And they have flown this far into Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia just doesn’t make those attacks
public usually. But the fact is that this attack was close
to Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. It was by a group that even the U.N. says
receives weapons or missile parts from Iran itself. And Iran has vowed to attack Saudi Arabia. So that’s why we’re getting a lot of concern
from both Saudi and U.S. officials today. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, now, this was the second
attack in just a few days. There was the attack on Sunday on an oil tanker. NICK SCHIFRIN: Right, so attack on four oil
tankers on Sunday morning, three of them against Iranian enemies, against Saudi Arabia and
Emirati tankers. Now, we don’t know a lot about this attack. But we do know that, according to U.S. and
Saudi officials, it was relatively sophisticated. And the U.S. officials I’m talking to say
they believe, they believe that Iran or its proxies were behind not only that attack against
the tankers, but also this drone attack in Saudi Arabia. But, Judy, I will say, they will not give
me that proof. So either they don’t have any or they just
simply won’t share it yet. JUDY WOODRUFF: And I know you’re talking to
a lot of people. What do the ones who follow Iran say about
why Iran would be doing this right now, if they’re doing it? NICK SCHIFRIN: Right. We don’t know that they’re doing it. And Iran does deny that they’re doing it. But I have talked to a lot of people. And they say Iran is facing a lot of external
pressure. The external pressure is mostly from the U.S.,
both the rhetoric, the military moves, and, of course, the sanctions. There’s a lot of internal pressure as well. The economy is doing very poorly. The Iran nuclear deal had in mind the idea
that Iran would benefit economically. Iran has not received those benefits. The economy’s doing poorly. And so what these officials I talked to say,
this is a way to resist all of that external U.S. pressure and also a way to relieve some
of the internal pressure, to perhaps rally around the flag a little bit. And one U.S. official I talked to put it this
way. This is Iran ratcheted up its resistance,
but in a way that allows them plausible deniability — we’re generally talking about proxies here
— and in a way that doesn’t create a direct conflict with the United States. JUDY WOODRUFF: But, at this point, no sign
that the U.S. is relenting, pulling back on this pressure campaign against Iran? NICK SCHIFRIN: Quite the opposite, that they’re
increasing the pressure campaign. Over the last week-and-a-half, we have seen
the deployments of U.S. military assets, U.S. Abraham Lincoln carrier group — you see it
right there — four B-52 bombers that accompanied that carrier group, an amphibious warship,
in addition to what you’re looking at there, and Patriot missile batteries on the way. Now, these are assets that have been in the
Middle East in the past. The U.S., of course, has been fighting wars
in the Middle East, much less so today. But so these assets have been there in the
past. So this is not a huge ratcheting up deployment
by the U.S. But, obviously, it’s sending a message to
around to Iran. White House officials say it’s a message of
deterrence. Also sending a message to Iran, a New York
Times article today that said 120,000 troops would be considered sent by the United States
to the region if there’s any kind of Iranian attack. So first, let’s listen to what President Trump
had to say when he was asked about that article this morning. DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States:
I think it’s fake news. OK? Now, what I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. Hopefully, we’re not going to have to plan
for that. And if we did that, we’d send a hell of a
lot more troops than that. NICK SCHIFRIN: So the U.S. officials who I
do talk to you say that meeting did happen, this discussion did take place. But 120,000 troops is one of many contingencies
that the U.S. could use, depending on what happens, and that they have made absolutely
no decisions yet. But it’s clear, as we said, that the U.S.
is trying to make Iran feel the heat right now. And defense officials tell me there is an
increased threat against U.S. troops in Iraq and in the region. Now, I will say this. I talked to a senior Democratic congressional
official this evening, who told me that the administration is — quote — “inflating the
threat.” So there are some divisions and there are
some questions about this intelligence and about the threat that the U.S. is describing. But, Judy, the bottom line is, there is a
cycle of confrontation between the U.S. and Iran right now. And it appears to be getting worse. JUDY WOODRUFF: But we need to continue asking
questions, which I know you are doing. NICK SCHIFRIN: And we will continue to do
so. JUDY WOODRUFF: Nick Schifrin, thank you. NICK SCHIFRIN: Thank you.

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