Pence warns Tehran against escalating tensions, takes talks offer out of speech
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Pence warns Tehran against escalating tensions, takes talks offer out of speech

US vice president tells pro-Israel conference that Iran should not interpret decision to not go ahead with military strike as a lack of resolve

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Christians United for Israel's annual summit, July 8, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Christians United for Israel's annual summit, July 8, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON — US Vice President Mike Pence warned Iran on Monday against further escalating tensions, as Tehran moved to ramp up its nuclear program, and reportedly cut remarks about Washington’s willingness to negotiate with Tehran.

Speaking to hundreds at the Christians United for Israel summit in downtown Washington, Pence asserted that Tehran should not misinterpret the White House’s decision to call back a planned military strike, after Iran attacked tankers near the Strait of Hormuz and downed an unmanned American drone.

“Let me be clear,” the vice president said. “Iran should not confuse American restraint with a lack of American resolve.”

US President Donald Trump has said he decided to call back the strike since it was not proportional, though he has also ramped up his rhetoric against Tehran in recent days.

“We will continue to oppose Iran’s malign influence, we will continue to bring pressure on their economy, and, under President Donald Trump, America will never allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon,” Pence said.

An oil tanker on fire in the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019, near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, where two ships were reportedly attacked. (AP Photo/ISNA)

According to the Associated Press, Pence had planned to say that the US was willing to talk with Iran but “will not back down” in his prepared remarks.

Ultimately, he did not say that in his speech.

The speech came hours after Iran said it had begun enriching uranium to a level higher than allowed under the nuclear deal. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the regime of taking steps moving it closer to a nuclear weapon.

The vice president also addressed the administration’s efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Without mentioning any specifics, Pence indicated that Israel would have to make concessions under the Trump proposal, but promised that Israel would not be rendered military vulnerable.

“While any peace will require compromise, you can count on this: the United States of America will never compromise the safety and security of the Jewish state of Israel,” he said.

“For peace to be lasting and to be real, it must be negotiated,” he continued. “And peace can only be negotiated with parters who are committed to peace. Hamas is a terrorist organization that seeks the destruction of Israel, and the United States will never negotiate with terrorists like Hamas.”

Pence also took a shot at the up-and-coming liberal freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for calling immigration detention centers “concentration camps.”

Conditions at the facilities have been dire, with reports emerging that they are unsanitary and unsafe. The New York legislator, who recently visited one of the facilities, said inmates told her they were told by guards to drink water out of toilet bowls.

Pence suggested that was offensive to the memory of Holocaust survivors.

“We must never allow the memory of those lost in the Holocaust to be cheapened as a cliche to advance some left-wing political narrative,” he told the CUFI crowd.

“This slander of law enforcement was an insult to the six million killed in the Holocaust,” Pence added. “It should be condemned by every American of every political party everywhere.”

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