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What Might Come Next After U.S. Drone Shot Down By Iran


All right. Let's put that same question - how will the U.S. respond? - to two of the many NPR reporters working this story today. Our diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen is with us. Hey, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi there, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Hey. Along with NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Hi, Tom.


KELLY: Tom, you start. And before we get to the what next, let's do the what just happened. What is the Pentagon's account of this shootdown?

BOWMAN: Well, the Pentagon is saying it was an unprovoked attack. And an Iranian surface-to-air missile from the Iranian mainland shot down this large surveillance drone. It's a Navy Global Hawk, which is 46 feet long, has a wingspan of 130 feet. Now, the Pentagon says it was in international waters in the Strait of Hormuz and never traveled closer than 21 miles off Iran. And we're told the USS Bainbridge, which is in the area, has sent out helicopters and is near the wreckage site.

KELLY: And has the Pentagon - I mean, what kind of evidence have they put out to support that - their version of events?

BOWMAN: Well, not really too much. They haven't put out their coordinates of where this attack occurred. They said, again, it was in international airspace.

KELLY: Which is key because...

BOWMAN: But no great detail.

KELLY: Right.

BOWMAN: But clearly, they would have it.

KELLY: Because Iran is saying this was over Iranian airspace. I mean, what's their version of events?

BOWMAN: Well, they're saying, you know, the U.S. violated Iranian airspace, and they provided coordinates, unlike the Americans. And Iran said it was picking up pieces of the wreckage of this drone off its coast, which from the coordinates was about 10 miles off the coast, as opposed to 21 miles, as the U.S. said. And the commander in chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said crossing the country's border was our redline. And he said we're not - we don't want to get engaged in a war with any country, but we're fully prepared for war.

KELLY: All right. Michele, where is the White House on this today? Let's just start at the top of the chart here in Washington. We heard a little bit of what President Trump had to say, but he also gave his version of what he thinks happened with this drone.

KELEMEN: Yeah. You know, and his remarks have really been out of sync with his advisers, not just today but leading up to it, because while they're talking about this, these rising threats from Iran, Trump keeps saying that Iran is not the same country it used to be since he started this maximum pressure campaign. So today, in the Oval Office, he was actually suggesting that this shootdown of the U.S. drone could have been a mistake, the action of a rogue general.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth. I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it. We'll be able to report back, and you'll understand exactly what happened. But it was a very foolish move, that I can tell you.

KELEMEN: So, you know, the president seems to be giving himself a little bit of wiggle room here, not to be boxed into a response just yet. He often talks about how he wants to pull troops out of the Middle East, end these endless wars. So he was kind of downplaying this shootdown of the drone, calling it a new wrinkle or a new fly in the ointment - those were his words in the Oval Office today.

KELLY: I want to broaden this out a little bit because, of course, beyond the U.S. and Iran, the whole world is watching how this might play out. And Michele, U.S. allies are very worried about this escalating. Whatever President Trump may have just said at the White House today, they are urging a maximum restraint campaign. Are they acting on that? Are they taking steps to try to ratchet things down?

KELEMEN: Well, you do hear them using those - maximum restraint pretty often, which is targeted at this maximum pressure campaign.

KELLY: Sure.

KELEMEN: The U.N. secretary general, repeating his call on both sides to exercise maximum restraint today. The French president sent one of his top advisers to Tehran this week to try to calm tensions. Well, you're hearing it from Russia, too, urging caution, talking about a war in the region would be a catastrophe.

But one of the problems here, Mary Louise, is that there doesn't seem to be real clear diplomatic channels at the moment to de-escalate. Trump did try to send a message to Iran via Japan's prime minister; that didn't seem to go anywhere. And there don't seem to be lower-level talks going on. Iran, when it protested what it called this provocative action today, it sent its message to the U.S. via the Swiss, which represents U.S. interests in Tehran since the U.S. does not have an embassy there.

KELLY: So potentially a very scary scenario. I mean, if the diplomacy does not work, Tom Bowman, what are the possible next steps from the Pentagon point of view?

BOWMAN: Well, I mean, you could take this to the United Nations, you could add more sanctions to Iran or, lastly, as you say, take military action. They know exactly where this missile came from, they say - a particular town in Iran, so they could strike Iranian missile batteries. But the Pentagon leadership, for many weeks now, has tried to tamp down any talk or moves toward military action, even though the White House - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Adviser John Bolton are real Iran hawks. They seem to be pushing for military action.

But the Pentagon leadership is very worried about it, trying to tamp down this talk and worried this could all spin out of control.

KELLY: So far from a unified point of view, in terms of where things may go next, either from Washington or Tehran. That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman and our diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen at the State Department. Thanks, you too.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

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

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.