Sen. Angus King Is "Gravely Concerned" About Escalating Tension With Iran: "Who Is Provoking Whom?"

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Thursday on CNN's "New Day," Sen. Angus King, a member of the Intelligence Committee, said he was very concerned about escalating tensions with Iran wondering: "Who is provoking whom?"

"In other words, we know Iran is taking actions," he explained. "We're taking actions. We declared the IRGC is a terrorist organization. That has ramifications for them. We have ratcheted up the sanctions. We moved major military assets to the middle east. Are they reacting because they are concerned about what we are doing, or are we reacting because we are concerned about what they are doing?"





"By the way, Iran isn't Iraq. It's a big country. Two or three times as big. Much bigger economy. This is not one of these things where it would be a three-day series of air strikes. This is also difficult logistically to get troops there, Heaven forbid," he added.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN: I believe you are the first lawmaker we have spoken to, and we have spoken to many, who actually has reviewed some of the intelligence this week. Did you see some of the intelligence that this tension is based on?

SEN. ANGUS KING: Yeah. I had the opportunity to review, not a briefing but review the paper version on Tuesday afternoon. So I have had a chance to. I don't think I have seen everything, there is some new reporting this morning about images -- I have not seen those. But I have had a look, yeah.

ALISYN CAMEROTA: Can you characterize it for us, or at least tell us if it explains how we have gotten to this point of heightened tension with Iran.

ANGUS KING: You asked two questions there. They are two important questions and they are very different. Can I characterize it? I can't reveal what I have seen in a classified setting. But I can report that you have seen a lot of public reporting about "heightened Iranian activity" in the region, particularly in Iraq. That's accurate. That's what the administration is saying publicly.

The question though is what does it mean. There are two issues that are worrying me. One is who is provoking whom? In other words, we know Iran is taking actions. We're taking actions. We declared the IRGC is a terrorist organization. That has ramifications for them. We have ratcheted up the sanctions. We moved major military assets to the middle east. Are they reacting because they are concerned about what we are doing, or are we reacting because we are concerned about what they are doing?

That raises my second concern which is miscalculation. The guns of August. One of the great books written about the origin of World War II. Nobody really knew how it started. It started small and escalated. That's what worries me. You've got, for example, the Shia militia in Iraq which are not fully under control of the Iraqi government. Or at all. They are partially affiliated with Iran, but are they really under control? Say a group of people from the Shia militia attack Americans. Is that an Iranian attack or something that could trigger an escalation by us versus Iran and then suddenly we are on the ladder. That's what's worrying me. That's why I think the president is right according to the reporting that we have heard this morning to slow this thing down and express a little restraint on some of his advisers who seem to be getting us into a position where something pretty awful could happen.

ALISYN CAMEROTA: We don't have to go back to World War II. We all remember the faulty intel that led to the belief about WMD and the Iraq War.

ANGUS KING: I don't think there is faulty intel here, necessarily. The intel may be accurate, but the unanswered question is are they reacting to our assertions and actions in the middle east, or are we reacting to them. That's an unanswered question for me.

ALISYN CAMEROTA: That's a really good question. Why would the U.S. be provoking Iran?

ANGUS KING: Start with the fact that Iran is a malign actor in the middle east, there's no doubt about that -- supporting terrorists, they have killed Americans in Lebanon and other places. They are not good guys at all. The president is trying to put pressure on them. That's one of the questions, what's the strategy here? What's the endgame? What's the pressure for? If the pressure is to elicit further concessions in the nuclear field, or control on ballistic missiles, okay. If the pressure is regime change in Tehran, which John Bolton said as recently as two years ago was his goal, that may be unattainable. That's where we get into this escalation. It's a very, very volatile and dangerous situation. I'm gravely concerned because of the possibility of miscalculation, misunderstanding, misreading of some event, and all of a sudden you're on the ladder of escalation that could be very dangerous for this country and for the middle east.

ALISYN CAMEROTA: John Bolton has been pushing for regime change for years. I mean, we can go back to interviews here on CNN from 2006, 2007. Do you have faith in him as national security adviser?

ANGUS KING: Well, it's not up to me. The president appoints his own national security adviser. There is no question that John Bolton has an agenda. In 2015, he was telling Iranian exiles we'll be celebrating in the streets of Tehran in 2019. And here we are. So I have deep concerns. What the reporting is, and we are all reading the tea leaves, but the reporting is the president is concerned that perhaps in New England we'd say Bolton is out over his skis. He's pushing in a direction the president doesn't want to go. I think that's a good idea.

Mike Pompeo is also aggressive when it comes to Iran. By the way, Iran isn't Iraq. It's a big country. Two or three times as big. Much bigger economy. This is not one of these things where it would be a three-day series of air strikes. This is also difficult logistically to get troops there. Heaven forbid. This is a very different situation than Iraq. The concern is we are going to misinterpret something or they will and all of a sudden we are off into a very difficult conflict for us.

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