Vice President Pence joined National Security Adviser John Bolton in warning Iran not to interpret American military restraint as a sign of weakness and doubled down on the U.S.’ willingness to take necessary action.
Pence made this clear in the aftermath of President Trump’s decision to hold off on a potential strike against Iran in response to the Islamic Republic shooting down an American drone in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz.
“All options remain on the table,” Pence said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Pence observed that Iran has been “lashing out even more than they usually do” over the past two months, as the Trump administration has increased sanctions.
In light of this, Trump’s decision not to strike back was met with concern, including from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that Iran will indeed take it as a sign of weakness. Graham tweeted on Friday that he appreciates “the difficult decisions” the president has to make, but said, “when it comes to the Middle East, people rightly talk about the ‘Cost of Action’ but they seldom mention the ‘Cost of Inaction.’”
Graham later tweeted that “in some instances, failing to act can prove to be the most dangerous choice of all.”
Pence does not believe that Iran will view Trump’s decision, which was based on expected casualties that would not have been “proportionate” to the damage done by Iran, as a sign that they can get away with whatever they want.
“They understand the military capabilities of the United States of America,” he said, mentioning how Iran stated that they were considering attacking a manned spy plane, but chose not to.
Pence’s remarks come after National Security Adviser John Bolton made similar statements about Iran during a visit to Israel. Bolton warned Iran not to “mistake U.S. prudence and discretion for weakness,” and said Iran did not have “a hunting license in the Middle East.”
The U.S. has responded to Iranian actions, with Yahoo News reporting an American cyberattack against a spy group linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. This was reportedly in response to an attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
Iran denied responsibility for the tanker attack, but Bolton, Trump, and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., all went on record claiming Iran was behind it.
As Pence noted, the escalating tensions with Iran come as President Trump has increased sanctions against the Islamic nation, in an effort to bring them back to the negotiating table after the U.S. pulled out of the Iran Nuclear Agreement. Trump believes that the agreement, entered into by President Barack Obama, did not go far enough to ensure that Iran would not develop nuclear weapons.
On Saturday, the president announced that he will impose “major” new sanctions on Iran on Monday.
Pence made it clear that the Trump administration is also willing to take a diplomatic approach.
"We are prepared to talk to Iran without preconditions," he said. Pence described how sanctions have damaged the Iranian economy and said President Trump wants an outcome to the current situation that will be beneficial for Iranian citizens.
"This is a president who hopes for the best for the people of Iran," Pence said. At the same time, he said the U.S. "will stand up to the Ayatollahs."