Alaska’s Senator Dan Sullivan joined me on the show today to discuss the Iran “deal”:
HH: I’m joined now by United States Senator Dan Sullivan, former attorney general of Alaska, member of the Armed Services Committee in the United States Senate, former assistant secretary of State under Condoleezza Rice and George W. Bush, and a member of the Armed Services Committee. Senator Sullivan, how, welcome, it’s good to talk to you.
DS: Hey, Hugh, great to hear your voice, great to be on the show again, thanks very much.
HH: I’m going to be in your state next week, but I hope you’re in D.C. fighting this deal. How bad is it?
DS: Well look, we’re digging into it right now. There’s, you know, very, very deep skepticism. But I think the broad outline show us that it’s something that is going to undermine now only our nation’s security, but likely the security in the Middle East. And you know, the biggest thing is we need to remember where we started when these negotiations began. The clear objective was to dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons capability, make sure they don’t get the bomb, in exchange for sanctions relief. And we’ve move from that clear objective to the objective of managing proliferation in the Middle East with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, and I don’t think that is good for the nation’s national security.
HH: Now Senator Sullivan, I begin with a process question. You’re due to go out on recess on August 10th through September 7th. Now Lindsey Graham and Cory Gardner agreed with me that’s not a good idea. Tom Cotton said maybe it will be. I’ll talk to John Thune after I’m talking to you about it, and I’ll ask Senator Risch about it a little bit later. I just think it’s hard to keep people’s attention focused on this deal if the United States Congress leaves town. What do you think?
DS: Look, Hugh, I think you’re raising a really good point. And you know, we have 60 days to review this under the Iranian Nuclear Agreement Review Act. But what you’re saying is very important, and there’s no other responsibility as serious in the United States Senate, certainly, as looking at these kinds of agreements. You know, we do all kinds of different things here. The country’s national security in terms of an international agreement like this is one of the most important things we do as U.S. Senators. So I think there would be a lot of interest in making sure that we retain focus on this, because there’s not a higher calling, a higher duty that we have as a Congress to protect the American people.
HH: Now Senator Cotton made the contra argument, I’m open to it, which is if Senators go home and Congressmen go home and they get blasted by public opinion, they’ll come back. It just, there’s a balance in here somewhere between going home and talking to people and leaving town so that that August ennui, which you know better than me, because I haven’t been there for years, but you know what August is like. No one’s around, nothing gets done.
DS: Yeah, I think it’s got to be a balance as well, because you do need, look, the key thing here is to make sure that the public pressure is brought to bear on members of the Senate who might approve this deal. And you know, one thing, people are saying hey, the Senate needs to weigh in. We could get you a letter. The Senate already did weigh in. There was 83 U.S. Senators about a year ago who wrote the President, who laid out objectives that were needed to satisfy them. And every one of these objectives talked about Iran never being able to get a nuclear weapon. 83 Senators are on record saying that. This agreement appears to not meet that objective. It’s going to be interesting for the Senators who signed that letter. Now what are they going to say?
HH: Now you’re a specialist in this area from your State Department days and your military service in the Marine Corps. How soon, how long will it take the Sunni governments to wake up and smell the coffee? They’re not going to sit around and let Iran, their historic rival, I mean, this goes back millennia, actually.
DS: Millennia, exactly.
HH: Yeah, they’re not going to let them have a nuke and stand by.
DS: Well look, I mean, one of the biggest concerns that we all have is that this is going to be the beginning of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, which of course is a nightmare scenario. The other issue, and you mention it in terms of sanctions, I did, I was somebody when I was an assistant Secretary of State who worked on this portfolio, who worked on economically isolating Iran. In one of the weakest aspects, it appears, to be of this deal, is we are giving Iran this huge billion dollar, multibillion dollar signing bonus where this is going to go to a regime that is going to use these billions to continue to carry out their terrorist activities, and this is not just one Senator saying it. In the last week, we’ve had the incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and this morning, the incoming vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when asked this question directly, they said almost certain that sanctions relief dollars are going to be used to carry out terrorism. Think about that, Hugh.
HH: That’s, it’s crazy. I’m talking with Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan, himself a Marine. He’s a lieutenant colonel in the United States Marine Corps Reserves. Let me ask you as a Marine, Senator. The Iranians have killed your colleagues.
DS: That’s right.
HH: They blew up Americans. They may still be doing it in Afghanistan for all I know, though we’ve withdrawn from the very tip of the spear there. What, as a soldier, what do you think of this deal?
DS: Well look, I mean, one of the things that we’re looking at right now is one of the entities that they are looking at relieving the sanctions on immediately is General Soleimani of the Quds Force. The Quds Force was the group, Iranians, responsible for supplying Shiia militias in Iraq with these EFP’s explosively-formed projectiles, the most deadly IED on the battlefield. If you hit that, you could be in an Abrams tank. There was a IR trigger on that, you were going to die. And hundreds and thousands of Marines and soldiers were maimed or killed by Iranians.
DS: …and through Shiia militias in Iraq. So is this a trustworthy adversary? No.
HH: In fact…
DS: You know, Reagan said trust but verify. We got neither in this agreement.
HH: Yeah, General McChrystal in this studio a couple of weeks back, he was talking about his new book, Team Of Teams, but he talked about Soleimani, the Quds Force general, and called him a hero to the Iranians. And so we are in effect arming the most charismatic deadly enemy out there. Now McChrystal said the most dangerous man in the world’s in Yemen, but they’re funding Yemen, too. It’s like we’re raining money on our enemies.
DS: Yeah, but here’s the thing, Hugh. I couldn’t agree more with General McChrystal. But to have the Quds Force and Soleimani first out of the gate for sanctions relief, which is, I haven’t read it, yet, but was what I’m hearing is being reported, is you know, it’s an insult to our soldiers and Marines and airmen, sailors who sacrificed so much over the last 12 years.
HH: You know, there are a lot of good Democrats, and there are reasonable independents there. Have you had any chance to talk with them, yet, about you’ve got to break with the President on this one, this is too dangerous?
DS: Not, yet, but we’re already seeing that you know, a number of Democrats are starting to signal significant skepticism. And what I find is it’s the members who are deeply involved in the issue. The more they understand it, the more they understand the dynamics. The more they understand the Iranian regime, the more skeptical they are. And you know, it’s not just the agreement right now. But we need to be looking ten years, fifteen years from now. Right now, one of the scenarios that I think could come from this, even if Iran abides by the terms of the agreement, in ten to fifteen years, they could have a nuclear weapon. They could have a stronger economy. They could have ballistic missile capability which is not touched by this agreement, and they could still be a state sponsor of terrorism, which is also not addressed by this agreement.
DS: Think about that.
HH: Mind boggling.
DS: None of those scenarios make America safer or our allies.
HH: Senator Dan Sullivan, thank you for joining us. Great candid conversation, I look forward to more of them in the next 60 days. Follow Senator Sullivan on Twitter, @SenDanSullivan.
End of interview.