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Iran Shooting Down U.S. Drone Is A 'Dangerous Escalation,' Says Rep. Kinzinger

NOEL KING, HOST:

All right. For more on this developing story, we have on the line with us Representative Adam Kinzinger. He's a Republican from the state of Illinois, and he serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, thanks for being here.

ADAM KINZINGER: You bet. Good morning.

KING: What do you think about Iran taking down this U.S. drone?

KINZINGER: Well, I think it's a dangerous escalation. I think one of the things - when we figure out where this is and the dispute between is this international and is it not - Iran claims, for instance, the islands in the Gulf, Farsi Island, for instance, as their airspace. The international community doesn't recognize that.

And in fact, when I flew over in that area back in the war, they would often make call out to us that we were actually in their airspace when, in fact, they weren't. So you know, it would be interesting to see if this is where that happened. But this is obviously a dangerous escalation, and Iran's playing a very dangerous game.

KING: Right. Iran's saying it's a defensive move, and the U.S. saying no, it's an offensive move. Have you talked to anyone from the administration this morning?

KINZINGER: I have - not as of today, but I have in the past. And I'll - you know, the one thing I want to say is this. Nobody is itching for a fight with Iran. I mean, this idea that there is some conspiracy of the White House to go to war isn't correct.

But I think where the difference lies is there's a lot of people that believe that, you know, for 30 years - and you can include me in this list - Iran has been attacking American interests, American assets. And a quarter of American troops in Iraq were killed as a result of Iran. And as a result, the United States has never struck in Iran. And so at some point, you have to stand strong. And in many cases, having a credible military option doesn't necessarily mean you use it. But it means that it can diffuse further situations instead of inviting weakness.

KING: We talked this morning, earlier, to a former State Department negotiator on the Middle East, Aaron David Miller. He said that the U.S. seemed to underestimate Iran's response to a number of things - the U.S. pulling out of the nuclear deal, the U.S. campaign of maximum pressure on Iran, keeping the sanctions on. Has the United States fundamentally underestimated Iran here?

KINZINGER: I don't think so. But I mean, I don't think we necessarily saw that they were going to react in this way. But here's what I think the biggest thing to keep in mind is, is Iran is reacting out of desperation. A confident country - confident in its future, you know, secure in its future - doesn't attach mines to ships, doesn't attach mines to tankers. They don't do things like that. This is a country that's very desperate because their funding from places like Syria, Yemen, Hezbollah and Lebanon is running out. They're finding their, basically, ability to go - forays into other countries shrink. And what they're trying to do now is take this response right up to the point where they think they can provoke a U.S. response and fall just short so they can look tough and they can create panic in the United States to try to pressure this administration back into the nuclear deal which was so good for them.

So I think the key with us is don't buy into the panic. The United States military is strong. We can do what we need do to defend ourselves. We're not talking about an invasion of Iraq, but that's what - of Iran, I'm sorry. But that's what Iran is seeking to do, is to create panic here to pressure a reentry into the deal.

KING: All right, so let's say everyone in the United States stays calm. How do you think the U.S. should respond right now?

KINZINGER: Well, I think we're approaching the point where there is a limited military response. I think the president's correct for not doing it yet. But Iran has certainly stepped up to that line. And I think the thing to keep in mind is the United States military, people often put out false choices - either do nothing, or invade with 200,000 troops. There is many, many things proportionally in there that can be done, such as taking out surface to air sites that, for instance, shoot down drones or taking out the ability to shut down the Strait of Hormuz.

There's limited things that we can do that, if necessary, we can put Iran back on their heels. We have far superior military capability. We don't want to go there, but I think it's important for people to realize that we're not talking about an invasion, an Iraq-style invasion. But there are escalating places to that, which I think will cause Iran to back down if we needed.

KING: I want to ask you what obligation U.S. allies in the region have, specifically Saudi Arabia. What should the Saudis, in your view, be doing now today - in the next coming days?

KINZINGER: Yeah. I mean, that's a tough question. Obviously, Saudi Arabia and Iran are mortal enemies, and so I don't know if there's a lot they can do to ease tensions. Obviously, they need to be prepared defensively if these Shia militias are reenergized or terrorist groups from Yemen, for instance. So I think that kind of thing. I think all the other allies can obviously step in to try to reduce tensions. I think we can reenter negotiations with Iran for a deal that would be somewhat similar to what was had but would take in things like ballistic missiles and their behavior, their destabilizing behavior in the region. And I think we can all get out of this with a win, including Iran.

But you know, right now they're trying to basically acquiesce the U.S. to the good deal that they had. And the interesting thing is they're responding to economic pressure with military means, which is extremely disproportional and something that needs to be remembered.

And the last thing I'll say is this. We talk about rhetoric from this administration a lot. All you have to do is look at the rhetoric from the Iranian regime and know that, you know, ours is nothing in comparison.

KING: Adam Kinzinger is a Republican from Illinois and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

KINZINGER: You bet. Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.