During the White House press conference on Wednesday, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn said the administration is “officially putting Iran on notice” in response to the country recently test-firing a ballistic missile.
Flynn — a staunch opponent of the Iran nuclear deal who last year tweeted on separate occasions that “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL” and dared “Arab & Persian world ‘leaders’ to step up to the plate and declare their Islamic ideology sick and must B healed” — blamed Obama for the alleged provocation.
“The Obama administration failed to respond adequately to Tehran’s actions — including weapons transfers, support for terrorism, and other violations of international norms,” Flynn said. “The Trump administration condemns such actions by Iran that undermine security, prosperity, and stability throughout and beyond the Middle East and place American lives at risk. President Trump has severely criticized the various agreements reached between Iran and the Obama administration, as well as the United Nations — as being weak and ineffective.”
Flynn didn’t clarify what he meant by “on notice,” but the statement is troubling coming just days after the United States banned all Iranian nationals from the country. It’s also concerning given Flynn’s own hawkishness on Iran, as well as many others in the Trump administration.
Later during the same press conference, Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about the administration’s response to escalating hostilities between Russia and Ukraine.
Since Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke on the phone on Saturday, “the worst violence for a year in the conflict between Kiev and Russia-backed separatists has left up to 19 dead and thousands of people without water and heating in freezing temperatures,” the Guardian reports.
Both sides are blaming the other for the escalating hostilities, but the Obama administration placed sanctions on Russia in 2014 “for violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, or for stealing the assets of the Ukrainian people” following Putin’s move to seize the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine earlier that year. The International Criminal Court issued a preliminary finding last year that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is “a crime.”
Trump has expressed a desire to lift the sanctions on Russia, but the topic reportedly didn’t come up during Saturday’s phone call with Putin, which the White House described as “positive” and “a significant start to improving the relationship between the United States and Russia that is in need of repair.”
Instead of decrying the renewed bloodshed in eastern Ukraine during the Wednesday’s presser, Spicer basically dodged the question.
“The president has been kept aware of, through his National Security Council and his national security team as a whole, what’s been going on in the Ukraine, and we’ll have further updates as we go on,” Spicer said, before moving on to other questions.
To recap: news of Iran testing a missile resulted in the Trump administration “officially putting Iran on notice,” but Russia allegedly escalating an illegal war in Ukraine wasn’t even worthy of comment.
While the Trump administration is full of Iran hawks, it also contains officials who want better relations with Russia.
In December 2015, Flynn sat at the same table as Putin at an event commemorating the 10th anniversary of Russia’s state-owned RT television network, an outlet described as “the Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet” in the recently unclassified intelligence report about Russia’s manipulation of the presidential election. During the event, Flynn gave remarks blasting President Obama and said he didn’t know whether the 2013 sarin gas attack in Syria widely thought to have been the responsibility of the Russia-backed Assad regime was a “false flag.” And Trump’s Secretary of State, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship by Putin in 2013.
Since the election, Trump has called Putin “very smart” and said, “Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing.” He pushed back strongly against the intelligence community’s conclusions that Russia meddled in the election on his behalf, amid unverified reports Russia actively worked on his behalf during the presidential election.
As late as last August, Trump signaled he was willing to take a tough stance against Russian aggression:
When I said in an interview that Putin is "not going into Ukraine, you can mark it down," I am saying if I am President. Already in Crimea!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2016
He appears much more willing to accommodate Russian aggression now.