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Senators Express Caution About Military Strike Against Iran

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Top senators expressed caution about possible U.S. military retaliation against Iran for its purported role in attacks on Saudi oil facilities, amid concerns that any strike could sharply escalate hostilities in the region and get America mired in a broader Middle East war.

President Trump, who pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal and has imposed punishing sanctions on Iran, said he would like to avoid a military conflict with the country but hasn’t ruled it out.

Lawmakers, many of whom have soured on Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, were far from unified about how the U.S. should respond—if at all. Republicans were split on whether U.S. military action should be under consideration, while some Democrats said it should be ruled out and that they would try to block any military response.

President Trump has said he would like to avoid a military conflict with Iran but wouldn’t rule it out.


Photo:

Chris Kleponis/Bloomberg News

Sen.

Lindsey Graham

(R., S.C.), a close ally of Mr. Trump, said he has spoken with the president about what Mr. Graham thinks the U.S. response should be: knocking an Iranian oil refinery out of business.

“The Iranians bombed an oil refinery in Saudi Arabia. That’s an act of war against an ally,” Mr. Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. “The fact that they would do this so openly and brazenly says to me, they are testing the region and the United States. So the response should be sufficient that they will not do it again.”

But Sen.

Jim Risch

(R., Idaho), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it was too early to make a decision.

“We’re not anywhere near that,” Mr. Risch said. “We’re still in the analysis situation. The briefing book that’s been put together lays out the facts and it’s only after the facts are looked at, analyzed, conclusions reached, that decisions will be made.”

Republicans also warned that any retaliation by the U.S. military or its allies could stoke a broader regional conflict that could draw in countries including Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and potentially Turkey and Russia.

“Such a conflict would be difficult to de-escalate,” Sen.

Marco Rubio

(R., Fla.) warned on Twitter.

Meanwhile, most Democratic lawmakers were adamant that the U.S. shouldn’t go to war over the attack on Saudi oil facilities, and that the president would need authorization from Congress before launching any military operation against Iran. They blamed the crisis in part on what they described as the Trump administration’s bellicose strategy toward Iran, and the yearslong Saudi-led war against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.

Fears of a military conflict between the U.S. and Iran are high following an attack on a critical Saudi oil facility Saturday. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib highlights three reasons the U.S. is less likely than it once was to defend Saudi Arabia if that happens. Photo: Associated Press

In the Yemen war, Saudi Arabia has used U.S.-made equipment as well as intelligence to determine strike targets in a bid to defeat Houthi rebels that it sees as proxies of rival Iran. This year, senators voted to end U.S. support for the war, but Mr. Trump vetoed the effort.

Lawmakers have also cooled to Saudi leaders over the killing of journalist

Jamal Khashoggi

last year at a Saudi consulate in Turkey, as well as human-rights abuses.

In their comments, Democrats have shown little appetite for military action, and said they would demand that Mr. Trump seek congressional approval before launching any attack. Many Democrats insisted that any step toward war with Iran would be a disaster.

Sen.

Tim Kaine

(D., Va.) said that going to war over Saudi oil “would be ridiculous” and “a colossal mistake.”

He hopes to include bipartisan language in a must-pass defense bill that would require congressional approval for any military operations against Iran.

Mr. Kaine said he hoped the Trump administration would focus on diplomacy rather than military action. He said he was intrigued by the possibility of direct talks between the U.S. and Iran, and French-led efforts to ease tensions by offering Iran a $15 billion international credit line backed by France, Germany and the U.K.

Sen.

Chris Coons

(D., Del.) initially signaled openness to the possibility of a U.S. military response, but later walked back those comments.

Mr. Coons told reporters on Capitol Hill that the aggression from Iran needs to be taken seriously. “But given that this is not a direct attack on American facilities, or American troops, or even arguably American interests, the president has to make the case to Congress before taking any further action.”

Sen.

Chris Murphy

(D., Conn.) said he planned to look at materials about the Saudi attacks provided by the administration, but he didn’t expect it to change his opposition to taking military action.

“I would hope the Republicans and Democrats have read the history books, at least in the last 20 years, to understand that how terrible it would be for the United States to start dropping bombs in Iran, no matter what they may have done in Saudi Arabia.”

Write to Lindsay Wise at lindsay.wise@wsj.com

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