Is The White House 'Baiting' Iran? Former Defense Secretary Hagel Says He's Concerned09:43
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Troops march during the army parade commemorating National Army Day in front of the shrine of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran, Thursday, April 18, 2019. Iran is grappling with U.S. sanctions and the Trump administration's recent terrorism designation of Iran's powerful paramilitary force. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
Troops march during the army parade commemorating National Army Day in front of the shrine of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran, Thursday, April 18, 2019. Iran is grappling with U.S. sanctions and the Trump administration's recent terrorism designation of Iran's powerful paramilitary force. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Former Obama administration Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says he's concerned the Trump administration is "baiting Iran in a very dangerous way."

Hagel's reaction comes as nuclear tensions between Iran and the U.S. continued to tighten this week, one year after President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, which put restrictions on Iran's nuclear activities.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says his country will restart some of those activities it had halted under the deal — including enriching uranium — in a matter of weeks if other countries don't protect Iran from increasingly stiff U.S. sanctions. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Baghdad this week just days after warning of a possible "escalation" in the region, and an announcement the U.S. will send an aircraft carrier and Air Force bombers to the Persian Gulf.

Hagel, who was defense secretary when the Iran nuclear deal was originally struck, says having an aircraft carrier group in the region isn't an unusual move. But it's sparking concerns amid Trump administration officials' increasingly aggressive tone.

"You have people within the White House — specifically the national security adviser John Bolton, who's been very clear on his position about Iran. Mr. Pompeo ... has been rather bullish as well," Hagel tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson.

State Department adviser Brian Hook told NPR's Morning Edition that the military mobilization was intended to send a message:

"Any attack on U.S. interests or on those of our allies will be met with force. We obviously are not looking for war with Iran but we are postured and ready to defend U.S. forces and interests in that region."

The situation with Iran — and fears it may be headed toward war — is a "good example" of one of the most consistent aspects of the administration's foreign policy, Hagel says: its inconsistency.

"I'm concerned that this administration has — not just on Iran but on all issues all over the world — a really disconnected, inconsistently focused policy. And that inconsistency has confused allies and concerned them," he says.

Another figure who will play a role in how these Iran tensions might unfold is acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who President Trump intends to nominate to be the permanent successor for Jim Mattis, who resigned last December.

Hagel says he supports the nomination and that he hopes it will alleviate uncertainty about Trump's foreign policy both in the U.S. and abroad.

"It's very important that we have a secretary of defense who is seen in the eyes of the world as legitimately confirmed by the Senate, has power, has authority and speaks with authority," he says. "And I think that's particularly important ... because the Pentagon — and the State Department's the same way, and I think a lot of departments — is, after 2 1/2 years of this administration, without many Senate-confirmed appointments, without many leaders in the building."


Alex Ashlock produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Kathleen McKenna. Jack Mitchell adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on May 10, 2019.

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