Trump administration strategy to combat Iranian aggression faces test

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," September 16, 2019. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It would look to most like it was Iran. Secretary Pompeo and others will be going over to Saudi Arabia at some point. They also know something that most people don't know, as to where it came from, who did it. And we'll be able to find that out, figure that out very quickly. We pretty much already know.

I'm not looking to get into new conflict, but sometimes you have to.

ABBAS MOUSAVI, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Those who take advantage of the situation have to make such comments to reassure the Saudis to feel secure so that they can move ahead with their goals. Such comments are condemned, unacceptable, and categorically baseless.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: The president did not point the finger directly as Iran but almost got there. U.S. intelligence officials privately say that this attack, which happened in Saudi Arabia at the biggest refining facility in the world, was at the hands of Iran. This obviously affected the price of crude oil today, shooting up, as you can see the two-day prices. And what lies ahead anybody knows. The president saying, tweeting, that the U.S. is locked and loaded.

Let's bring in our panel: Chris Stirewalt is politics editor here at Fox News; Susan Page, Washington bureau chief at USA Today, and Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist.

Chris, it seemed that the president was a little cautious today and wanting not to get ahead of where the facts were.

CHRIS STIREWALT, FOX NEWS POLITICAL EDITOR: And this is a Bolton-less administration. The president and his foreign policy -- I think that as he has gone on, at the beginning I think the foreign policy piece of it was maybe the most challenging for Trump. I think as he has gone on, he has gotten a team now around him that reflects his less interventionist sensibilities. And I think this is of a piece with that. I think he is doing he's doing.

BAIER: Here is Senator Chris Coons from Delaware.


SEN. CHRISTOPHER COONS, D-DEL.: Iran is one of the most dangerous state sponsors of terrorism. This may well be the thing that calls for military action against Iran if that's what the intelligence supports.


BAIER: Susan?

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: So interesting Senator Coons is willing to say that. I did think we a change in view on the president's part over this time. I think initially his tweets and comments were pretty aggressive. Locked and loaded is a pretty aggressive turn.

But this afternoon he seemed to be taking maybe one step back, saying diplomacy hadn't been exhausted. And I think you saw the Saudis also trying to maybe take one step back. Before, we were hurtling toward a military confrontation there. That said, even if we don't have a military confrontation this time, this is a difficult, fraught part of the world, where the crisis will not be over even if we get past this one.

BAIER: There are people on Capitol Hill, as you know, Mollie, that will say, listen, Iran can't punch you in the nose too many times without responding. You had the drone shoot down. Now you've had Saudi attacked directly. It wasn't a U.S. facility but it does affect the U.S. in oil.

Your thoughts on that, and the response?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: I think it is important to make sure that you have good intelligence. There are assertions that Iran was involved. That needs to be determined. And even if Iran is attacking Saudi Arabia, I think of the tweet that Donald Trump sent five years ago when he said we do not need to fight Saudi Arabia's wars. We are in a loose, informal alliance with Saudi Arabia, and that's important, but we need to remember what our interest in the region is, which is to make sure we eliminate anti-U.S. terror attacks, and that there are no long-term disruptions to the oil supply.

Saudi Arabia itself said that they were able to bring production back up to levels by today. So while this is significant and it needs to be monitored, it's also important that if we think action be taken, that those same people on Capitol Hill actually authorize that through the constitutional process where they are the ones to determine if we go to war with someone.

BAIER: Here is the president on meeting with the Iranian president possibly as soon as next week in New York.


TRUMP: There were always conditions, because the conditions, if you look at it, the sanctions are not going to be taken off. I have no meetings scheduled. I know they want to meet. I know they are not doing well as a country. Iran has got a lot of problems right now.


BAIER: Chris?

STIREWALT: So the dream of the Obama administration was that they were going to nurture moderates in Iran so that they could get better outcomes long term. It was very ambitious, and as it turns out, it was not meant to be. Trump, on the other hand, is trying to do more of a realpolitik where he is going in, and the Iran that he finds is the Iran he's going to deal with, and maybe he can do the deal, or maybe he can at least put them in the Kim Jong-un box where you're sort of in an endless loop of negotiations that don't really add up to anything, but you're contained.

BAIER: We should put it in perspective, Susan, that these sanctions are really having a crippling effect on Iran. There's no doubt about that.

PAGE: Yes, clearly. And Iran is desperate to get out of these sanctions.

BAIER: Immediate intention, too.

PAGE: Are there preconditions or not preconditions for these talks?

BAIER: There's sanctions.

PAGE: Because you could take your pick.

BAIER: That's right. He tweeted that.

PAGE: I would mostly bet against a meeting with the Iranian president in New York next week, but who knows?

BAIER: Mollie?

HEMINGWAY: Well, we have discussed whether that would be possible, and there were members of Congress who strongly discouraged even allowing some of these Iranian people come to the United States, thereby definitely ensuring that there won't be any talks. It is important, though --

BAIER: Liz Cheney, among others.

HEMINGWAY: Yes. It is important that if you do want to avoid conflict, you have to talk to people, and no matter if you have conditions or don't have conditions, that has to be a part of the process, particularly if you want to avoid an intractable conflict that we don't have a clear path of victory for.

BAIER: The president says the secretary of state is heading to Saudi Arabia at some point. We will follow all of this as we get next steps and head towards New York next week.

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