SALT LAKE CITY — Members of Utah’s congressional delegation praised President Donald Trump’s nationally broadcast address Wednesday from the White House in response to Iranian missile strikes on two military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq.
The president announced no Americans were harmed in the attacks early Wednesday morning local time on military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq and declared his administration’s economic and military objectives toward Iran.
“I think the objective is entirely right, which is to prevent Iran from ever having a nuclear weapon and to cause them to retreat from their effort to destabilize the world through terrorism,” Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said in an interview following the address. “And so I thought he did a very good job of describing what he has done and what he hopes to do. “
Republican Rep. Chris Stewart said the president’s call for a “new deal” with Iran “should give the entire world hope for a better and more peaceful future. Any new deal negotiated by the president and his team must guarantee Iran won’t have a nuclear weapon and will end Iran’s support of terrorism worldwide.”
Rep. John Curtis, a Republican, also liked what he heard.
“There seemed to be a lot of restraint, there seemed to be a thoughtful and careful response to the situation,” he said in a video statement.
Republican Sen. Mike Lee didn’t respond to the president’s speech but publicly expressed outrage after a separate classified briefing to the Senate, accusing administration officials of trying to muzzle lawmakers who are still seeking additional explanations for the administration’s actions in regard to Iran.
And Utah’s lone Democrat in the House, Rep. Ben McAdams, expressed relief there were no casualties in the attack and agreement with keeping nuclear weapons out of Iran. “That is a worthy goal that all parties should support, and I look forward to working with the president and my colleagues to pursue a comprehensive strategy, with buy-in from our allies, that reduces the threat of nuclear proliferation,” he said.
The president began his remarks, declaring “As long as I am president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon,” then announced that no Americans were harmed in a missile strike that caused “minimal damage.”
The attack was in retaliation for last week’s killing of a top Iranian military commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in a drone strike authorized by Trump. “We are warning all American allies, who gave their bases to its terrorist army, that any territory that is the starting point of aggressive acts against Iran will be targeted,” Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said in a statement carried by Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency, according to the Associated Press.
Indeed, the strikes confirmed fears the two powers were on the brink of war. But standing in the White House’s grand foyer and surrounded by national security advisers and Vice President Mike Pence, the president opted to de-escalate the situation. He said the U.S. response to Iranian aggression would be to impose “additional punishing economic sanctions ... until Iran changes its behavior.”
He added that “Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a good thing for the world.”
Later Wednesday, delegation members participated in closed-door classified briefings where senior military and national security officials were to explain the rationale behind the decision to take out Soleimani and what the future holds.
Trump repeated the administration’s public statements that killing the Iranian general prevented attacks on additional American targets, following assaults late last month on U.S, troops and the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
“He should have been terminated long ago,” Trump said.
The Washington Post reported House Democrats and Republicans were divided on whether the drone strike was justified following the briefings.
Stewart and Romney told KSL radio that Trump’s authorization of a drone strike was legal and justified.
But Lee struck a very different tone, telling reporters it was “the worst briefing I’ve seen at least on a military issue” in his nine years in the Senate. He said he was “unsatisfied” with the legal, factual and moral justification for the strike and blasted administration officials for what he said amounts to shutting down congressional debate on further military action against Iran.
In an earlier interview, Romney told the Deseret News that among his lingering questions is whether the killing of Soleimani fits with existing U.S. policy addressing Iran’s aggression in the region, which has been a “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions imposed after Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration.
“Is this part of a broader strategy to confront militarily Iran and its proxies in the Middle East or is this instead a response to Iranian provocation and an effort to forestall attacks by Iran on our interests in the region?” he said.
Romney said he has met with national security adviser Robert O’Brien, with whom he has a longtime personal relationship, and will be speaking with U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Matthew Tueller, a BYU graduate with Utah ties, to learn more about events leading up to Soleimani’s death and the future outlook for the region.
Based on what he’s learned, Romney believes the administration had the “legal and moral authority to remove someone who has led terror activity throughout the region. As to the long term impact on Iran, and their malign ambitions, time will tell.”
He explained there is an upside and downside to any military action.
“And whether it’s one or the other depends on actions that Iran decides to take,” Romney said. “I believe it’s clearly in Iran’s interest to abandon their nuclear folly and to abandon their terror campaign and to become a more cooperative member of the regional economy and the global political structure.”
In his speech, Trump said the same, inviting European allies to become more involved in the “Middle East process” and to support a new nuclear deal “that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place. We must also make a deal that allows Iran to thrive and prosper and take advantage of its enormous untapped potential.”
But statements from Iran’s leaders Wednesday were not as diplomatic. The Associated Press reported Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speaking on Wednesday, said the overnight strike was not necessarily the totality of Iran’s response.
“Last night they received a slap,” Khamenei said. “These military actions are not sufficient (for revenge). What is important is that the corrupt presence of America in this region comes to an end.”