WASHINGTON — US Vice President Mike Pence cautioned Iran this weekend to “think twice” before undertaking any “hostile and belligerent actions,” doubling down on President Donald Trump’s warning that military action remains on the table.
The Trump administration imposed fresh sanctions Friday on multiple Iranian entities and individuals after Iran test-launched a medium-range ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead on January 29.
Asked in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopolous conducted Saturday but aired Sunday morning what exactly it means to put Iran “on notice,” as the White House has said, Pence replied “it means we’re watching.”
“Iran would do well to look at the calendar and realize there’s a new president in the Oval Office and Iran would do well not to test the resolve of this new president,” he added.
The vice president also reiterated Trump’s statement this week that “nothing is off the table” regarding the Iranian regime, borrowing a phrase oft-used by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to suggest military action is an option to thwart Iran from developing a nuclear weapon or carrying out nefarious designs in the region.
“The president said everything is on the table,” Pence said.
The new sanctions came after US National Security Adviser Michael Flynn announced on Wednesday that the administration was putting Iran “on notice” for its latest activities. Trump later tweeted that “Iran is playing with fire.”
In his statement, Flynn cited UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which calls upon Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”
He also castigated a recent episode in which Iran-backed Houthi rebels attacked a Saudi naval ship in the Red Sea.
In another act of defiance, Iran held a massive missile drill Saturday, the semi-official Fars News Agency reported. “If the enemy makes a mistake, our missiles will land on them,” General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, who oversaw the exercise, was quoted as saying by the Revolutionary Guards’ official website.
Pence also spoke to the fate of the Iran nuclear deal that former president Barack Obama forged with Iran and world powers in July 2015, which Trump repeatedly called “disastrous” and “one of the dumbest deals” ever made on the campaign trail.
As a candidate, he often gave conflicting signals as to how he would handle the Iranian threat, saying both that he sought to dismantle the landmark accord and implement it meticulously.
Since winning the election, however, he and his advisers have suggested they would not withdraw from the pact. The nuclear accord is expected to be at the heart of talks between Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in their February 15 meeting in Washington.
On a call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman last week, Trump pledged to “rigorously enforc[e] the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” using the deal’s official name, according to a White House readout of the conversation.
But on Sunday, Pence implied Trump had not yet made a decision. “We’re evaluating that as we speak,” he said, when asked if they would uphold the agreement.
Stephanopolous noted that Trump’s Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have said the deal should not be unilaterally abrogated.
“I think the president will make that decision in the days ahead, and he’ll listen to all of his advisers,” Pence responded. “But make no mistake about it. The resolve of this president is such that Iran would do well to think twice about their continued hostile and belligerent actions.”