Biden facing growing pressure on response to Iran over deadly drone attack
Written by ABC AUDIO on January 30, 2024
(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden on Tuesday faced increasing pressure to forcefully respond to Sunday’s drone attack by Iran-backed militants that killed three American service members and wounded at least 40 others, without deepening the conflict in the Middle East.
“We are not looking for a war with Iran,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said at Monday’s White House press briefing.
“We are not seeking a conflict with the regime in the military way,” Kirby continued. “We’re not looking to escalate here. This attack over the weekend was escalatory, make no mistake about it. And it requires a response.”
The president vowed Sunday that the U.S. would respond, and Monday met with members of his national security team in the White House Situation Room to discuss the latest developments on the attack in Jordan near the borders with Syria and Iraq, according to the White House.
Among those in the meeting were national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and chief of staff Jeff Zients.
Biden is now faced with a difficult decision on how best to respond to the attack that killed the first U.S. service members since the start of the Israel-Hamas conflict, without igniting a broader conflict in the region, something the administration has been steadfastly trying to avoid for months.
The White House would not confirm or deny if direct strikes against Iran were on the table, but a senior U.S. official told ABC News that Biden has deep misgivings about retaliatory strikes on Iran itself.
“There’s no easy answer here,” Kirby told reporters.
“That’s why the president is meeting with his national security team, weighing the options before him. He’ll do that as he’s done in the past in a very careful, deliberate way, so that our national security answers– our interests are best preserved,” Kirby said.
In a press conference Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested the U.S. response “could be multi-leveled, come in stages, and be sustained over time.”
Prior to Sunday’s deadly attack, there had been at least 164 attacks on U.S. forces in the region since mid-October.
The U.S. has launched repeated retaliatory strikes — nine in Yemen since Jan. 11 and four in Iraq and three in Syria since mid-October — although the president has noted they did little to deter future attacks.
Many Republicans have called on the administration to take stronger action against Iran, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“The entire world now watches for signs that the President is finally prepared to exercise American strength to compel Iran to change its behavior. Our enemies are emboldened. And they will remain so until the United States imposes serious, crippling costs – not only on front-line terrorist proxies, but on their Iranian sponsors who wear American blood as a badge of honor,” he said in a statement.
Complicating matters further is the conflict between Israel and Hamas, and the ongoing hostage negotiations that the U.S. and other countries have been working to facilitate.
Kirby said Monday the talks were headed in a good direction, and the White House saw “no reason” that any U.S. response to these attacks should affect the negotiations. Still, he acknowledged it could.
“We’re not cocky. We understand there’s a lot of hard work ahead. And that work ahead of us, diplomatically certainly, might be affected by– by events elsewhere in the region. Not just — not just what happened in Jordan and what- what might come as a result of that, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t. And that’s why we’re gonna stay at that task,” Kirby said.
A growing conflict could also have major impacts on Biden’s reelection efforts. He has already faced political pressure on the campaign trail from pro-Palestinian protests at his events calling for a cease-fire.
At a recent event in Virginia, Biden faced more than a dozen interruptions from the crowd calling for an end to the conflict.
When asked whether politics would play a role in the president’s response, Kirby was adamant it wouldn’t.
“He’s not looking at political calculations, or the polling, or the electoral calendar as he works to protect our troops ashore and our ships at sea — and any suggestion to the contrary is offensive,” he said.
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