Likely Some Iranian Involvement In Saudi Oil Attack, Sen. Murphy Says
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Who attacked Saudi Arabia's oil facilities? That question remains unanswered. But officials in Saudi Arabia now say Iranian weapons were used in the attack. And President Trump yesterday said this.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, have you seen evidence, proof that Iran was behind the attack?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, it's looking that way. We'll have some pretty good - we're having some very strong studies done. But it's certainly looking that way at this moment, and we'll let you know.
GREENE: Now, Iran has denied these accusations. And as intelligence officials briefed lawmakers on the attack, many of them are wary of the United States taking any kind of military action here. And one of those lawmakers is Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who joins us this morning.
Senator, thanks for being here.
CHRIS MURPHY: Good morning.
GREENE: So I gather you've gotten some classified briefings about these strikes. What can you tell us about the evidence and who is responsible for this?
MURPHY: I have seen very limited intelligence thus far. I don't think anyone in Congress has had the chance to be able to query Trump administration officials or intelligence analysts. But the intelligence I have seen does suggest that the Iranians likely played some role in these attacks on the Saudi oil facilities. Now, that may be direct involvement, or it may be involvement through a proxy force, but there likely was, from the intelligence I've seen, some Iranian involvement here.
Now, of course, that begs the question whether the United States should come to the defense of these Saudi oil facilities. And it begs the question as to why we are caught in this escalating cycle of behavior in which the Iranians seem to be carrying out or instigating more serious attacks on the Middle Eastern oil supply. Those are all very important questions for us to consider.
GREENE: Yeah. Well, I mean, we actually had a veteran diplomat, Dennis Ross, on the show yesterday. I mean, he's been in this business for a long time. He served both Republican and Democratic presidents. He brought up the recent attacks on oil tankers that were blamed on Iran, this Saudi attack. He said Iran has been attacking America's friends and interests in the region, yet they haven't had to pay a price beyond sanctions. So doesn't President Trump have to make Iran pay somehow here?
MURPHY: Well, let's remember why this all started. This all started because the United States unilaterally pulled out of the Iran nuclear agreement and reimposed sanctions on that country. And so if we want to be serious about the genesis of these escalating actions, it starts with an action by the Trump administration. Now, Iran has always been a force for malevolent behavior in the region. But these unprecedented series of attacks start with the Trump administration's cutoff nuclear diplomacy with Iran. And...
GREENE: But that's looking backwards. Is it not? I mean, how do you deal with the present? You could certainly relitigate the decision about the nuclear agreement, and obviously, that's a very important conversation. But what about going forward? If Iran is behaving in this way right now, beyond sanctions, if you don't think there should be military action, what do you think should be done?
MURPHY: So there's no doubt this is a moment to get back into a conversation with Iran about how to de-escalate. The idea that you are going to make this situation better by attacking Iran is ridiculous. That would ultimately lead to a conflagration in the region that would involve many other of our allies. And the idea that we are going to provide a security guarantee to Saudi oil facilities, frankly, would just escalate the chances for increasing reckless Saudi behavior in the region. Remember, this is not just about the United States and Iran. This is also about a regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran that we do not want to escalate either.
GREENE: But you think diplomacy. I mean, you think reopening the door to diplomacy with Iran, which - you know, there are many in the Trump administration elsewhere who don't trust the Iranians. But you trust them enough to bring them back to the table and try to de-escalate this.
MURPHY: I do, except for the fact that the Trump administration is incapable of that kind of diplomacy. Just look in the last 24 hours as the administration has sent totally different signals about whether we're willing to sit down with preconditions or without preconditions. But the bottom line here is that an attack on Saudi Arabia is not an attack on the United States. And we have to be able to differentiate between countries that have attacked us and countries that have attacked nations that we have a relationship with. That's a difference.
GREENE: Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thanks for your time.
GREENE: I want to bring another voice here. It's NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre, who's been listening to this. Hey there, Greg.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hey, David.
GREENE: So we should say, Senator Murphy - not alone at all in cautioning against U.S. military involvement. There are Democrats, there are Republicans who are urging that kind of caution. So how does the Trump administration respond to all of those sort of worried voices about doing something militarily here?
MYRE: Well, the president has put himself in a bit of a bind because he's been talking about getting tough with Iran and, as we heard, pulling out of the nuclear deal, imposing the tough oil sanctions. So there's this tough talk. And yet, in a seemingly contradictory fashion, he also wants to remove U.S. forces from the region. We just went through this talk about taking troops out of Afghanistan. He also would love to reduce or remove U.S. troops from Iraq and Syria. So he's sort of in this bind of wanting to - maximum pressure, step up the pressure on Iran but not wanting to sort of follow through where that might lead to the logical conclusion, which is armed force.
GREENE: So if Iran was responsible for this, what would its rationale have been to carry out something like this in Saudi Arabia?
MYRE: Oil sanctions. Iran is having real trouble exporting. The Trump administration wants to block all Iranian oil exports, and it hasn't succeeded in doing that, but it's cut them to a very low level. And Iran's response is, if we can't export our oil, which is fundamental to our economy, it's not going to be business as usual; we're going to make noise; we're going to cause problems and make it difficult for others to conduct their operations - as we see here with this attack on the oil facility. Again, we don't know exactly if Iran was behind it, but Iran did shoot down a U.S. drone in June. We saw other smaller attacks on facilities. So I think Iran's response will be, we're going to cause trouble in the region if we can't export our oil.
GREENE: What about the impact on oil prices? We've seen them spike already. I mean, is it going to hit us at the gas pump and in other ways in the United States at some point?
MYRE: I think at this stage, it might, but in a limited way. We saw the oil prices jump from about $60 to $70 a barrel over the past day, but still, that's a relatively low price. The world's supply is still strong. So this won't disrupt oil markets if this is a one-off. The risk would be if tankers going in and out of the Gulf become regular targets.
GREENE: NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Thanks a lot, Greg.
MYRE: Sure thing, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.