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Possibility of war with the U.S. leaves Iranians ‘rattled’

A day after President Trump said he had called off a planned airstrike against Iran shortly before it was due to occur, governments of both countries were preoccupied with the conflict, which represents the closest Iran and the United States have come to war in 30 years. Judy Woodruff talks to special correspondent Reza Sayah, reporting from Tehran, about the reaction and “anxiety” among Iranians.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now for the view from Tehran, special correspondent Reza Sayah is there. And he joins me via Skype.

    Hello, Reza.

    So, first of all, what was the reaction there to President Trump tweeting that he had indeed called for a strike on Iran before he decided to call it off?

  • Reza Sayah:

    Judy, like much of the world, Iranians and the Iranian government were engrossed by these tweets that confirmed Mr. Trump had OKed a military strike against Iran last night, and abruptly called it off in the last minute, even after this mission was under way.

    If indeed this is true, that means, for Iranians, this is the closest that they have come to seeing the U.S. attack Iran, to seeing Iran and the U.S. go to war since 1988. That's when the U.S. attacked and downed a small Iranian warship in the Persian Gulf.

    So the reaction here by the Iranian government is one that acknowledges the gravity the situation, one that acknowledges that the situation is getting closer to a possible open conflict.

    The reaction has been firm, in that they have said, look, we downed the U.S. drone, we claim it, and we had the right to down the U.S. drone because, Iran says, it crossed into (AUDIO GAP) territory.

    But they have also been measured. Even though the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard said Iran is prepared for war, he also came out and said they do not want war.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    When it comes to the drone, the shooting down of the American drone, certainly, it was seen as an act of aggression.

    Some see it as an act, maybe even inviting an attack by the U.S. What was the thinking behind that?

  • Reza Sayah:

    I think that seems to suggest at this point that perhaps the Iranian government is changing its strategy. It's taking a step towards becoming more aggressive against this maximum pressure campaign by U.S. President Donald Trump.

    Remember, ever since Mr. Trump last year pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, reimposed those economic sanctions, added new ones, Iran hadn't done much. It had not reacted in an aggressive way. It had stayed in the nuclear agreement.

    But, over the past month, you see indications that they're taking a more aggressive step, threatening to ramp up their — what they call is a peaceful nuclear program. And now they have attacked a U.S. drone.

    Remember, even if this drone would have encroached Iranian airspace, Iran could have chosen not to attack it, considering the climate, considering rising tensions. It did not choose to do that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Reza, what about the people of Iran? What are — what are ordinary Iranian saying about all this?

  • Reza Sayah:

    As you know, Judy, Iranians have been through a lot ever since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, 40 years of political and economic isolation and pressure and threats and sanctions.

    They have been through a lot. They know how to roll with the punches. They're resilient. But this time, you sense that they're rattled. They are a little scared.

    Today, I was in a coffee shop this morning. You had everyone asking this question: Is there going to be an attack by the U.S.? Is there going to be war again?

    This is the closest we have seen the U.S. and the Iran — and Iran go to war, so it's causing a lot of anxiety.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Reza Sayah, reporting for us from Tehran, thank you. Reza.

  • Reza Sayah:

    You're welcome.

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