Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s remarks on the nuclear deal with Iran at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, September 8.
Remarks prepared for delivery:
Thank you very much, Marc, for that kind introduction. It is always good to be back at AEI.
I come before you today not as a candidate for any office. My years in elective politics are over. I come before you as a citizen, a citizen who has also spent the better part of 40 years in public service—as White House chief of staff, member of Congress, secretary of defense and vice president—focused for much of that time on the national security issues facing our nation. I am here because I have deep concerns about the Iranian nuclear agreement Congress begins considering today.
It will be up to members of the House and Senate to vote yes or no on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that President Obama has agreed to with the government of Iran. For every member of Congress, no matter how many years they serve or how many votes they cast, this is a vote that will be remembered.
So much is in the balance, for our own security and that of our friends. It is not a moment for appeals to party loyalty…for whip calls…or returning favors…for lining up against a president for its own sake, or lining up with a president for its own sake.
Every man and woman in Congress will have to stand alone on this issue. And they should choose with nothing else in mind but the merits of the case and the interests of our country, bringing their own best judgment to a decision that is theirs alone to make.
I’ve come in that spirit today, setting aside for now any broader disagreements with the Obama administration…any stake in past debates…any concern of electoral politics. This vote in Congress will have profound consequences.
Approval of this agreement will not prevent a nuclear Iran. Along with a pathway to a nuclear arsenal, President Obama’s agreement will provide Iran with funds and weapons the regime will use for the support of terror, the dominance of the Middle East, and the furtherance of Tehran’s efforts to destroy Israel, threaten Arab regimes, and prevent the United States from defending our allies and our interests in the Persian Gulf and beyond. With the removal of restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile program, this agreement will give Iran the means to launch a nuclear attack on the U.S. homeland.
A week before the deal was announced, President Obama’s own secretary of defense declared this shouldn’t happen. “The ‘I’ in ICBM,” Ashton Carter noted, “stands for ‘intercontinental,’ which means having the capability to fly from Iran to the United States, and we don’t want that.”
I know of no nation in history that has agreed to guarantee that the means of its own destruction will be in the hands of another nation, particularly one that is hostile. What President Obama is asking the United States Congress to do is unique—historically and dangerously unique. The results may be catastrophic.
The claims made by President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and other members of the Obama Administration about this agreement have been robust. This deal will, they have said, and I quote “prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” “cut off all Iran’s pathways to a bomb, including the covert pathway,” provide us with a “certainty we will know what they are doing” in the nuclear arena, “prevent nuclear proliferation,” encourage stability across the Middle East, and “prevent war.” These assertions are simply false.
Take the president’s assurance that the agreement will “prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” In a more candid moment a few months ago, he admitted that under this deal, the Iranians in thirteen years or so will have—and I quote, “advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and at that point the breakout times would have shrunk down to zero.” The president’s own words make clear that this agreement does not keep Iran from nuclear capability. Quite the opposite, it guarantees that in less time than has passed since 9/11, a regime with “Death to America” as a pillar of its national policy, will have the ability and material to produce an arsenal of nuclear weapons. And at that point what is to prevent them from doing so? Well, President Obama tells us, they promise they won’t. We are asked to rely on the word of a country that has cheated on every nuclear agreement to which they have been a party that once they have the means in place to become a nuclear power, they won’t do it.
President Obama came into office determined to engage the Iranians “without preconditions.” Beginning with his inaugural address offering them an open hand if they unclenched their fist, through his letters to the Iranian supreme leader, through the secret negotiations established by Secretary Clinton with the Iranians in Oman in 2011, President Obama’s guiding principle has been convincing the Iranians they can trust us. If we walk away from this deal, Secretary Kerry recently claimed, the regime in Tehran will learn, “You can’t trust the West.” A negotiation based on the premise that the United States had to gain the trust of the world’s worst state sponsor of terror was never going to end well.
In the secret talks, before the actual negotiations even began, the U.S. side appears to have made three key concessions. They agreed to drop the long-standing demand of the international community that Iran halt uranium enrichment. They agreed to provide immediate sanctions relief, and they agreed to pay the Iranians to negotiate by releasing $12 billion in frozen Iranian assets. These were just the concessions made prior to the negotiations. So much for negotiations “without preconditions.” There were, in fact, preconditions—they just weren’t ours.
The Iranians are reputed to be excellent negotiators, and for the American side it was not an auspicious beginning. It set the pattern of one concession to Iran after another. Hard deadlines declared and then ignored. A general air of desperation to get a deal—not on their part but on ours. And, not on our terms, but on theirs.
The cave on enrichment wasn’t just any concession. Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, signed by over 190 nations, including Iran, countries with peaceful nuclear programs do not have a right to enrich. Agreeing to the demand that the United States recognize such a right for Iran guts the fundamental principle at the heart of the NPT and makes it much more difficult for the international community to deny such a right to any other state. It also, in one fell swoop, neutered six United Nations Security Council resolutions passed to stop Iran’s nuclear program, including its uranium enrichment activities. President Obama, who says he is committed to the international arms control regime, to the United Nations, and to nuclear non-proliferation, is now urging that the United States accept an agreement that will undercut the most effective multilateral arms control treaty in history and negate the previous demands of the international community expressed in those UN Security Council resolutions.
The president says this deal will “stop the spread of nuclear weapons in this region.” In fact, by legitimizing the Iranian enrichment program for the first time ever, the deal will likely accelerate nuclear proliferation as other nations demand the same right. America’s friends and allies in the Middle East, including the Gulf Arab states, know that their own security hangs in the balance as the United States enables Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. They have watched the Iranians get the better of us in these negotiations. They know we are simultaneously withdrawing from the region and making cuts to our own nuclear arsenal and defense budget. They are already assessing that the security guarantees long provided by the United States are increasingly meaningless, and that announced red lines are more likely to be abandoned than defended by the United States today.
They are more likely in this environment, and in the aftermath of this deal, to determine that their own security requires that they possess their own nuclear weapons.
The president says this deal will ensure “the international community will be able to verify that [Iran] will not develop a nuclear weapon.” He has said the inspections regime is historic and that the agreement cuts off “every one of Iran’s pathways to a bomb,” including, magically, the covert pathway. Let’s look at the facts. After we were assured repeatedly by members of his administration that this agreement would include “anytime/anywhere” inspections, President Obama has accepted a deal that gives the Iranians anywhere from 24 days to many months to delay inspections at suspicious sites. Inspections at military sites, like Parchin, where the Iranians have concealed suspect elements of their nuclear weapons program in the past, are not convered in the agreement. The American people have been told not to concern ourselves with this. There are secret side agreements between Iran and the IAEA—which our elected representatives in Congress cannot see—that reportedly cover inspections at these sites. It’s not clear any Obama administration officials have seen the final text of these side deals either. The Iranians continue to insist, and I quote, “there will be no access to any military sites,” and in at least some crucial cases relating to past activities, the regime will be inspecting itself. That is historic – historically misguided.
The value of this agreement—and the veracity of the president’s claims about it—rest on the inspections regime contained within it. Inspectors need to know what Iran has done in the past so they have a baseline against which to assess whether that country is cheating in the future. Secretary Kerry seemed to understand this in April 2015 when he said the Iranians would have to disclose past activity. “They have to do it,” he said. “It will be done. If there’s going to be a deal, it will be done.” Two months later, in July of this year, Secretary Kerry’s position changed dramatically, “We’re not fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one time or another,” he said, because, and I quote, “We have absolute knowledge” with respect to Iran’s past activities. If you’re looking for a quick summary of Secretary Kerry’s position on the need for Iran to completely disclose all its past nuclear activity, you could say he was for it before he was against it.
General Mike Hayden, former director of the CIA and the NSA, has said he knows of no American intelligence official who would claim, as Secretary Kerry does, that “we have complete knowledge” of what Iran has done in the past. Detecting elements of a country’s nuclear program and predicting how close it is to breakout is a notoriously difficult intelligence task. It is one that we have failed at time and time again. The United States failed to predict the first Soviet atomic test in 1949, the first Chinese test in 1964, the first Indian test in 1974, the first Pakistani test in 1998, and the first North Korean test in 2006.
All of this should raise serious concerns about the claims President Obama has made that the agreement guarantees a breakout time of at least a year. Accurately assessing how far the Iranians are from obtaining a nuclear weapon would require a full and complete disclosure of their past activity. Inspectors need a baseline. If we don’t know how much progress Iran has made towards obtaining a nuclear weapon, we can’t accurately assess how much farther they need to go or how long it will take them. The Iranians were unwilling to make such a disclosure—which tells us something in and of itself—and President Obama and Secretary Kerry dropped this essential requirement.
Under President Obama’s agreement there will be no anywhere/anytime inspections and no inspections of military sites—those are covered in the secret deals we cannot see. There will be no access to the regime’s nuclear scientists, no full disclosure of past activity, no full access to documents pertaining to Iran’s nuclear program, and Iran will be doing some of the inspections themselves. We’re essentially leaving it up to Iran to let us know when and where they might have engaged in illicit nuclear weapons activity.
The president also expressed firm resolve on the matter of sanctions. They would be lifted when, and only when, the Iranians had first met their obligations. It worked out a little differently of course. They got that $12 billion and other sanctions relief right away. Soon, the regime will be a player again in the oil and financial markets. And, finally, something on the order of $150 billion will be coming their way in the assets released under the deal.
We were told, and are still being told, that at the first sign of cheating, sanctions will suddenly “snap back” on the regime. In reality, the deal makes it very difficult to re-impose sanctions, or to impose any new ones. It enables Iran to walk away from the agreement completely if any attempt is made to sanction them anew. Discoveries of violations by the Iranians would be followed by long international debates over every last technical point. And who doubts what the refrain would be from the Obama administration when confronted with obvious violations? We would hear that it’s better to overlook the offense than to risk losing the agreement. And that’s how we came to this point in the first place. It is the same weak, acquiescent, and ultimately dangerous mindset that led us so far down the wrong road, to a deal so completely tailored to the demands of the offender.
President Obama has agreed to Iranian demands to remove restrictions on key elements of the infrastructure Tehran uses to support global terrorism, including the IRGC Quds Force. He agreed to lift restrictions on Iran’s ICBM program and on its ability to import and export conventional weapons. If this agreement is approved, these concessions will further Iran’s efforts to achieve one of its main objectives in the Middle East—to drive the United States out. Former undersecretary of defense Ambassador Eric Edelman recently testified that under the JCPOA, quote, “The United States will not be able to rely, as it has for the past 30 years, on an assumption that it will have unimpeded access and control in all the domains of warfare in the Persian Gulf.” A recent study co-chaired by former Marine commandant General James Conway and former Deputy Commander of the United States European Command General Charles Wald, put it this way:
The JCPOA will enable Iran to improve its unconventional military capabilities to challenge the strategic position of the United States and its allies in the Middle East. Iran will be able to revitalize its defense industrial base in the short term even if it devotes only a fraction of the $100 billion or more that will be unfrozen as part of the agreement—more than the government’s entire budget for the current fiscal year—to military spending. Over the medium term, the removal of economic sanctions and the United Nations arms embargo will allow the regime to acquire other advanced technologies and weapons from abroad. And, once sanctions against its ballistic missile program sunset, Iran could more easily develop weapons capable of reaching targets in the Middle East and beyond—including Europe and the United States.
This agreement will enable Iran to modernize and expand its military capabilities while the United States military suffers from the devastating Obama-era defense cuts and the effects of sequestration. Contrary to claims made by the President and Secretary of State, the United States will be in a far worse position to defend our interests and prevent a nuclear armed Iran when the Obama agreement sunsets than we are today.
In addition to facilitating Iranian access to advanced weapons systems, aiding the development of its ICBM program, providing a cash windfall and tremendous economic benefits to the regime in Tehran, the Obama Iran agreement lifts sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the IRGC-Quds Force, and the Quds Force Commander, Qassem Suleimanyi. Under Suleimanyi’s command, the Quds Force has been responsible for supporting terror, fomenting violence, advancing Iran’s goals of regional dominance, and the killing of American service members in Iraq and Afghanistan. By lifting the sanctions on these entities—and on Suleimanyi himself—the Obama Iran deal aids the efforts of America’s enemies.
Imagine for a moment a world in which this deal has been implemented. Iranian-backed forces in Yemen will receive additional aid and support as they work to ensure that Yemen remains a failed state, a theater in which Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has effectively operated, and a threat to Saudi Arabia’s heavily-Shia Eastern Province. Iraq will see an influx of weapons and resources for Iran’s proxies, leading to increased violence and bloodshed as the Sunni-Shiite conflict deepens and ISIS is able to recruit more Sunnis to their cause. Conflict will intensify in Syria, as Iran floods its most important Arab foothold with weapons and fighters. The European refugee crisis will likely grow as thousands more flee the rising terror and chaos. Hezbollah, Iran’s main proxy, will also benefit in its operations across the Middle East, and particularly in its ongoing attacks on Israel. In the meantime, the removal of restrictions on the IRGC Quds Force will give that group the ability to move freely throughout the Middle East as they oversee this brave new world.
It isn’t just Hezbollah, the Houthis, and Bashar Asad who will benefit from the lifting of restrictions on Iran. Iran’s ties to terrorist groups are extensive. That’s why Republican and Democratic administrations alike have identified them as the world’s leading state-sponsor of terror. In 2011, President Obama’s Treasury Department designated six al Qaeda terrorists for their involvement in a network that moves money and terrorists across the Middle East, including into Iraq and Afghanistan. That network was headquartered in Iran. In the words of David Cohen, then undersecretary of the Treasury and today Deputy Director of the CIA, “There is an agreement between the Iranian government and al Qaeda to allow this network to operate. There is no dispute in the intelligence community on this.” Former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency General Michael Flynn has said that documents captured with Osama bin Laden included, “letters about Iran’s role, influence and acknowledgment of enabling al Qaeda operatives to pass through Iran as long as al Qaeda did its dirty work against the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Since that initial designation, President Obama’s own Treasury and State Departments have repeatedly pointed to Iran’s agreement with al Qaeda noting that Iran is, quote, “a critical transit point for funding to support al-Qa’ida’s activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan” and home to a, quote, “core pipeline through which al-Qa’ida moves money, facilitators and operatives from across the Middle East to South Asia.” This pipeline exists, according to the Obama Treasury Department, as part of a formerly “secret deal” between Iran and al Qaeda. As recently as last year, while the nuclear talks were underway, Treasury said that Iran had let Yasin al Suri (identified as the leader of the network in July 2011) out of his temporary detention to resume control of the network.
The President has said he understands that Iran’s support for terror continues. He has said that should not stop Congress from approving his nuclear deal. He seems willfully blind to the fact that the benefits conveyed to Iran in this agreement—the money, the conventional weapons, the sanctions relief—facilitate and enable the Iranian regime’s support for terror and terrorists groups, including those who have attacked the United States and are today threatening our security, our allies and our interests.
The United States Congress stood ready to approve a strong, serious agreement to prevent the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. Instead, it has been handed an intricately crafted capitulation. And though President Obama has spoken of this deal as part of his legacy—the consequences are “on me” as he put it—even that is beside the point. What happens after the deal is not “on” him? It is on all of us. This deal gives Tehran the means to launch a nuclear attack on the U.S. homeland. It threatens the security of our Arab allies across the Middle East. It threatens the security of Europe. And—it should not be forgotten—that this deal has vast implications for the future security of the Jewish people. Charles Krauthammer has written that it took Nazi Germany 7 years to kill 6 million Jews. It would take a nuclear-armed Iran one day.
Every American president for well over a half century has been committed to nuclear non-proliferation in the Middle East, every one of them—until now. With this agreement, the current administration is saying to Iran, in effect: you can enrich uranium, you can have ICBMs, and by the way you can also get back full swing into the arms trade. Oh, yes, and here’s a $150 billion, which we implore you—please—not to share with your terrorist friends.
To build a deliverable nuclear weapon is a mercifully difficult enterprise. But when the world wakes up one day to the news that Islamic radicals in Tehran have done it, all the pretenses will fall away, and new lines of force come into view, with all further terms to be worked out under the threat of the first use of nuclear weapons since Nagasaki.
When a former ranking Democrat on Senate Foreign Relations says that he fears that Iran will gain such a weapon and that he doesn’t want his name on it, his colleagues should pay very close attention. That man is dealing in reality.
The best assurance against these things coming to pass is a decisive, bipartisan majority in Congress that will vote against this deal and gather still more strength to override a veto. Some have suggested the White House recognizes the difficulty members of the president’s own party are facing as they are pressured to cast a vote in opposition to the interests and views of their own constituents, not to mention the nation. To avoid this, a filibuster has been discussed – that way no member need be on the record supporting this shameful deal. Anyone unwilling to stand up and be counted on this deal should not be serving in elective office.
The truth of the matter is that such momentous issues of national security should not be decided by a filibuster, a veto, or by 1/3 of the members of the United States Senate—least of all by a president who justifies his actions with a false choice: this deal or war.
Now, as at other fateful turns in our history, the alternative to nightmarish scenarios that we all wish to avoid is not to make concession after concession after concession. The moment President Obama conceded that the Iranian regime had any right to enrich uranium, he lost the possibility of securing a good deal. The moment he let up on sanctions—which were constricting the regime’s power and influence, and would only have gotten worse for them—pressure was lifted from the mullahs in Tehran and they no longer needed a deal more than we did. And as soon as President Obama went on Israeli TV and effectively ruled out the option of force, the Iranians knew they’d won.
A far better deal is still possible, and it begins with reasserting our original objective on each of these matters: Iran must halt its enrichment and reprocessing activities. It must halt its ballistic missile activities. It must provide a full and complete accounting of all its past nuclear activities. It must allow complete go anywhere/anytime access, including at military sites. There should be no sanctions relief until Iran has fulfilled these obligations. If Iran chooses not to do so, they must understand that the United States stands ready to take military action to ensure they do not acquire a nuclear weapon.
Preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons is one of the most difficult geo-strategic challenges we face, but there are lessons from the past on which we can draw. For decades, rogue regimes and terrorist groups have been attempting to acquire nuclear technology and weapons. In 1981, the Israelis launched an air attack against the Iraqi nuclear facility at Osirik, setting back Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program. By 1991, he had reconstituted large portions of it which the United States destroyed with our military action in Desert Storm. In 2003, when we liberated Iraq, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi contacted us – days after U.S. forces captured Saddam Hussein—and told us he wanted to turn over his nuclear program. He had watched the fate we delivered to Saddam and he didn’t want to be next. Qaddafi’s nuclear materials are now in the United States.
Qaddafi’s decision had two long-lasting and important effects. First, because he turned over his materials, they did not fall into the hands of the militant Islamist terrorists who today control territory inside Libya. Second, his cooperation enabled us to unravel the black market nuclear proliferation network of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan who had sold nuclear equipment and technology to rogue regimes around the world. We put Khan and his network out of business. There is also evidence that the Iranians halted a portion of their program in 2003 in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq –hoping to protect themselves from suffering Saddam’s fate.
In 2007, we learned that the North Koreans were building a nuclear reactor in Syria’s Eastern Desert –territory now governed by ISIS. When the Israelis brought this information to us, President Bush told them he would not take military action. The Israelis decided to take action on their own and destroyed the reactor.
In each of these cases, it was either military action or the credible threat of military action that persuaded these rogue regimes to abandon their weapons programs. Iran will not be convinced to abandon its program peacefully unless it knows it will face military action if it refuses to do so.
That’s how a serious negotiation plays out. That’s how a self-respecting power, with everything in the balance, asserts its vital interests. Insisting on key non-negotiable points and maintaining a credible threat of military force are the indispensable elements of serious diplomacy over the Iranian nuclear program. That is what the administration should have done all along.
Instead they have presented us with a deal that strengthens our adversaries, threatens our allies and puts our own security at risk. They have placed on the table for congressional review a deal that provides weapons and funds to a regime that has pledged to destroy Israel and maintains “Death to America” as a central pillar of its policies. Arming and funding Iran while simultaneously providing them a pathway to a nuclear arsenal is not an act of peace. It’s not, as President Obama claims, the only alternative to war. It is madness.
The vote on the Iran nuclear agreement is ahead and the stakes are high. Every member of Congress swears to defend the Constitution from enemies outside our shores. I took that oath ten times, and every time I put my hand on the Bible, I understood that I was also pledging to defend this great and good nation. A vote to reject this agreement will do that. Approving it will not.
Thank you very much.