Thank you Tim [Wuliger], and thank you all for having me. I’m delighted to be here to affirm the strong and, indeed, unbreakable, bond that exists between Israel and the United States. And also to express my own personal commitment to the promotion and defense of that bond, in and out of season. These are sentiments I look forward to sharing with Prime Minister Netanyahu tomorrow as well.
But before I get to the substance of my remarks, I’d like to acknowledge a few people in the audience. One of the best friends I ever had was the late, great Bubba Mitchell. Bubba and I saw eye to eye on just about everything. We shared a deep love of public service, college football, and our families. So I’m glad to see that Bubba’s wife, Arlene, and his daughters Melinda and Joy, and their husbands, Steve and Jimmy, are here carrying on the family tradition.
I’d also like to recognize AIPAC President Michael Kassen, AIPAC’s immediate past president and current chairman, Lee Rosenberg; and Howard Kohr. Thank you for your service to this vital organization, which has helped me and my staff immensely over the years.
Finally, I want to acknowledge all the Kentuckians who are here. We may not have a large Jewish population in the Bluegrass State, but I like to think we make up for it in heart. One AIPAC supporter I worked with years ago in Louisville summed up the attitude of most Jewish Kentuckians pretty well, I think. He said, “Mitch, there’s only one race that’s better than the Jews, and that’s the Kentucky Derby.”
Now, as we all know, the U.S. and Israel have a lot in common. In addition to the strategic interests that bind us, both were born of conflict and built up by immigrants and pioneers, and both have always been firmly committed to the democratic ideals that have enabled their peoples to flourish.
Because of these things, Israel has always enjoyed strong bipartisan support in Washington. But saying we support Israel doesn’t necessarily ensure it. And that’s why I wanted to come here tonight to share not just my good wishes, but to offer a concrete plan that would put our shared interests to the test.
Because let’s face it, in the four years since I last spoke at this conference, very little if anything has changed in terms of America’s stated commitments with respect to Israel. And yet I think we’d all have to admit that when it comes to the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, we have now reached a point where the current administration’s policies, however well-intentioned, simply aren’t enough. Four years later, Iran’s actions and several other objective facts suggest that it has made significant progress in its quest to develop the capability to build a nuclear weapon.
Let’s review. Iran is now believed to have produced at least five years worth of medium-enriched uranium for its medical reactors. According to the experts, such quantities raise serious suspicions about a military intent.
In the fall of 2009, the U.S., U.K., and France presented detailed evidence to the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran had for several years been busy building a covert enrichment facility near Qom [ pronounced: Gome]. The implication of the report was clear: Not only does Iran have the ability to conceal enrichment from the IAEA and the rest of the world, but also the intent.
Since I last spoke to this conference, Iran has also rejected an offer by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, the P5+1, to exchange its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to be reprocessed and returned in sufficient quantities for medical use.
Further, the IAEA report of November, 2011 raised serious concerns about the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, stating that “Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device.”
And Iran recently denied the IAEA access to the Parchin facility where it may have conducted a test in association with nuclear materials. What’s more, it refuses to explain the purposes of its activities at Parchin.
Finally, and perhaps most ominously, Iran has acknowledged and the IAEA has confirmed that it is enriching uranium at the underground facility at Fordo near Qom [Gome], enabling it to accelerate enrichment, in an apparent attempt to shield it from a military strike.
Taken together, these things present not only a compelling case against Iran, but also, regretfully, against the current administration’s efforts to halt the regime’s nuclear weapons program. Four years after expressing grave concerns about the Iranian threat, I regret to conclude that those concerns have only become more acute.
Now, some people might raise a question at this point. Why exactly is a nuclear-armed Iran so dangerous? My answer to them is this: if Iran behaves the way it does without a nuclear weapon, then how would it behave with one?
Leave aside for a moment the way it’s treated weapons inspectors and the U.N. Just look at the rest of its record.
• Iran is a state-sponsor of terrorism which provides material support to Hezbollah and Hamas.
• It’s an avowed ally of Syria and continues to provide it with material support even now.
• It recently attempted to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, in the United States, flagrantly flouting U.S. and international law.
• It has provided weapons and training to Shiite militias within Iraq, and shipped weapons from inside Iran that were later used against U.S. military personnel in Iraq.
• It recently threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz.
• It continues to develop ballistic missiles, raising legitimate suspicions about the intended use of those missiles as vehicles for a nuclear weapon.
• And it provides sanctuary for financial backers of Al Qaeda.
Ladies and gentlemen: these are not the actions of a state that’s comfortable with its place in the world. They are the actions of a self-described revolutionary state that is determined to shift the balance of power in the Middle East.
A nuclear armed Iran would pose a threat to Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. It would threaten sea lines of communication and commerce. And it would be further emboldened in its support for terrorist groups and arms proliferators, as President Obama conceded yesterday.
Make no mistake: Iran has a goal in mind, one that it has pursued for years through terrorism, covert actions, and, I believe, through the active pursuit of a nuclear weapons program that would only bring its broader goals within closer reach.
As the great theorist of international relations, Hans Morgenthau once put it, “The principal means … by which a nation endeavors with the power at its disposal to maintain or reestablish the balance of power are armaments.” This is what we’re witnessing in Iran. And it must be stopped.
In the weeks and months ahead, Israel and the United States face a day of reckoning. We either do what it takes to preserve the balance of power within the broader Middle East, or risk a nuclear arms race across the region that’s almost certain to upend it.
Now, President Obama knows all this as well as I do. That’s why he has said repeatedly, and as recently as yesterday, that he’s determined to prevent a nuclear Iran, and I appreciate this reaffirmation of our common goal. It is in service of this goal that the President has also insisted since taking office that, quote, ‘all options are on the table.’
The question isn’t whether we have the same goal. We do. The question is why the administration’s efforts haven’t succeeded in halting Iran’s nuclear weapons program. So let me suggest an answer to that question. The reason the administration hasn’t succeeded, in halting Iran’s nuclear program is that its policy contains a critical flaw.
Here’s the problem. You’ll recall that upon taking office, President Obama took several steps to pursue negotiations with Iran. He famously suggested that if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they’ll find an extended hand from us. He recorded a YouTube message to the Iranian people. He also reportedly wrote a letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader inviting him to talk without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. This was the engagement phase.
It was during this phase that the President presented Iran with two deadlines by which they could demonstrate progress, one in September 2009 and one in December 2009. But instead of using this period to demonstrate progress, Iran used it to continue enriching uranium and to divide the international community. And by the following year, one of the administration’s own former advisors on Iran would have to admit that the administration had, in his words, discounted the extent to which ‘the Iranian theocracy views engagement with the U.S. as a threat to its ideological identity.’
Meanwhile, Congress was growing impatient. And that’s why, as the administration was trying and failing to negotiate away Iran’s nuclear program, members of both parties in the House and Senate came together and began to put in place a sanctions strategy directed at Iran’s petroleum sector.
Many in this room strongly supported this effort and made it quite clear that you did, despite the administration’s reluctance to embrace it. But at Congress’s urging, and yours, the President did reluctantly sign the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act into law on July 1, 2010. But make no mistake: with this legislation, Congress handed the President a tool that he did not seek.
Last year, I worked to strengthen this sanctions strategy with an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act which sanctioned foreign banks for doing business with the Central Bank of Iran. This amendment became the basis for a negotiation with the Obama Administration on how best to sanction Iran without causing a shock to global oil markets.
Senator Mark Kirk, who is unfortunately not able to be with us tonight, but thankfully is recovering well, was the primary author of this legislation, and I know he’ll remain vigilant in ensuring that the administration does not lightly issue waivers to those who’d like to evade these sanctions.
But the bottom line is this: because of the failure of negotiations by the administration, Congress was forced to act. And the President, who initially opposed a strong sanctions strategy, was ultimately forced to accept it against his original wishes. And now the administration is making another mistake.
Just as it initially sought to rely predominantly on negotiations, it’s now relying too heavily on sanctions, whether by the U.S. or by the EU, through its welcome decision to cease Iranian oil purchases starting in July.
Now, the administration has attempted to rely on the ambiguity of its military policy by claiming at every stage that it continues to keep ‘all options on the table.’ But this is not a policy. It’s a talking point. And, as we’ve seen, a talking point will not deter Iran. What is needed when it comes to Iran is the one thing the administration hasn’t provided, and that’s a clear, declaratory policy that states what we will do and why.
Here’s the administration’s mistake: in attempting to preserve all options, it has inadvertently blurred the most important one, and that’s a determined military campaign to end Iran’s nuclear program.
The administration has used this same language about preserving all options in developing its policy toward Libya, Iran, and, now, Syria. Clearly, the threat has lost its intended purpose. And the markers this administration has identified, whether they be a program to enrich uranium to weapons grade levels, or a decision to construct a weapon, are only truly red lines if crossing them brings about painful consequences.
Another way to put it is that the administration’s mistake has been to pursue negotiations, and sanctions consecutively rather than simultaneously, without articulating a clear military consequence for the crossing of red lines.
But in my view, the only way — the only way — the Iranian regime can be expected to negotiate to preserve its own survival rather than to simply delay as a means of pursuing nuclear weapons is if the administration imposes the strictest sanctions while at the same time enforcing a firm declaratory policy that reflects a commitment to the use of force.
This is so crucial a step, I believe, that tonight I am prepared to propose such a policy — that is, a policy which has the clarity and the specificity that the situation demands. And that policy is this: if Iran, at any time, begins to enrich uranium to weapons grade levels, or decides to go forward with a weapons program, then the United States will use overwhelming force to end that program.
In my judgment, there is broad bipartisan support for the administration’s stated goal with respect to Iran, and a strong declaratory policy like this can be expected to have the support of strong majorities of both parties in Congress, and thus the solid support of the American people.
All that’s been lacking until now is a clear, declaratory policy. And if the administration is reluctant for some reason to articulate it, then Congress will attempt to do it for him.
So tonight I make the following commitment in support of the policy I have proposed: if at any time the intelligence community presents the Congress with an assessment that Iran has begun to enrich uranium to weapons grade levels, or has taken a decision to develop a nuclear weapon — consistent with protecting classified sources and methods — I will consult with the President and joint congressional leadership and introduce before the Senate an authorization for the use of military force.
This authorization, if enacted, will ensure the nation and the world that our leaders are united in confronting Iran, and will undermine the perception that the U.S. is wounded or retreating from global responsibilities.
The authority will be focused to ensure the people of Iran and the international community that our disagreement is not with the population of Iran or the Muslim world. This authorization will not prevent the administration from pursuing diplomatic measures, continued negotiations and consultation with our allies. On the contrary, it will strengthen these efforts.
This authorization will make clear that any effort by Iran or its proxy forces to retaliate against the interests of the United States whether our personnel, our bases or freedom of the seas will be met by overwhelming force.
For the U.S., this debate and ultimate passage of an authorization for the use of military force ensures that we have a coherent, unified policy toward Iran and that we not take on another military action without bipartisan support. A decision to take military action against Iran should not be taken lightly. It should have the bipartisan support of Congress.
For Israel, it ensures that Iran will never enter into a zone of immunity from which it can coerce and intimidate other countries.
For the broader Middle East, it ensures that Iran will not be a regional hegemon free to export its revolution either by terror or propaganda, especially into those countries experiencing unrest and political turmoil after the Arab Spring.
It is in the clear national interests of the United States to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons across the Middle East, to end Iran’s support of terror and the shipment of arms to Hezbollah and Hamas, and to protect freedom of the seas in the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. We share these interests with Israel. And we must face the threat to these interests together.
Four years ago, in marking the 60th anniversary of Israel, I noted that while the bonds between the U.S. and Israel have grown stronger over the decades, it wasn’t until the events of 9/11 that most Americans fully appreciated the sacrifices that Israel has made to preserve a fragile peace.
But as strong as those bonds have become, we cannot allow past or even current expressions of mutual respect and goodwill to obscure the urgency of the Iranian threat.
Rather, we must build on that history of shared interests and shared respect to overcome a flawed policy and to develop the right one that the current situation demands.
Congress has helped play that role in the past. Current events compel us to do so again. And we will not shrink from that duty. Israel’s security is not negotiable. We can’t shrink from affirming that to the world. And we certainly can’t shrink from telling a sitting President how we think it’s best achieved.
After all, we share a common goal. And we will only achieve that goal as long as we work together, in all candor and mutual respect. And once we have, and this current threat has passed, we will celebrate many more anniversaries, and an even stronger bond of friendship yet.