HH: Joined by United States Senator Tom Cotton. Good morning, Senator, from the earthquake in California to the earthquake in geopolitics. That’s quite a transition. What do you expect the President to do today about Iran?
TC: Good morning, Hugh. It’s good to be on with you. The President has said for months now, as I have said for years, as Mike Pompeo said first as a Congressman, now Secretary of State, that our objective is simply to prevent the ayatollahs from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon and to sharply reduce their campaign for regional hegemony through aggressive support of insurgent groups and terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East. It should come as no surprise after 120 days when the President made this last decision in January, that our European partners not having come far enough, that the President will not waive sanctions under U.S. law again. So I don’t want to tip my hand or reveal the President’s decision, but I think that the American people can count on him to be true to his word that he’s not going to stand idly by on a deal that only at best postpones Iran’s nuclear weapons capability.
HH: Senator Cotton, have you talked to the President in the last 48 hours?
TC: I don’t reveal my private conversations with the President, Hugh.
HH: Well, I wasn’t going to ask what you told him, or talked to him about. I’m just asking if, you know, you happened to chat with him.
TC: I am confident that the President is not going to allow the nuclear deal with Iran to continue on the path we’re on, which is that Iran can obtain a nuclear weapon in no fewer than seven to twelve years.
HH: Let me talk to you, then, about what happens after he withdraws and sanctions snap back, if indeed they snap back. What happens if they snap back? Do you expect the Europeans to put them back into place, or go around us, Senator Cotton?
TC: I’m not sure that we know, yet, Hugh. So the exact decision the President is making this week is whether to continue waiving sanctions under U.S. law. It’s not the formal snap back mechanism under the nuclear deal with Iran. It can be up to Iran to try to invoke the dispute resolution mechanisms of that deal or simply to take their lumps and proceed, which they very well might do, because it’s a good deal for them, Hugh, or to simply say they’re going to walk out of the deal. Likewise, I think our European partners, although they were a little slow off the marks after the President’s speech in January, have been scrambling in these last couple weeks to try to preserve the deal. I suspect that’ll continue after the President’s remarks today, because they would prefer not to see Iran entirely walk away from the deal. But if that’s Iran’s choice, then we’ll be prepared for that choice, and we’ll take what actions are necessary, whether those are economic, political, diplomatic or military.
HH: I want to remind people that at the time that the JCPOA was signed, you sent a public letter to the mullahs in your capacity as a senator, but as an individual saying just be aware, this isn’t a treaty, we’re not bound by this. Looking back at that, were you prophetic in your warning to the mullahs?
TC: Well, Hugh, to be exact, I didn’t send it. 47 senators, to include our majority leader and president of the Senate, signed it and released it to the ayatollahs. And I have to say, I think I told them so. I told them that if they did not get the assurances of a two-thirds vote of the United States Senate, as our Constitution mandates, that had just happened a few years earlier when the United States and Russia signed the New START treaty, then they should not be surprised if a new president did not stick with the terms of the deal that Barack Obama negotiated. That deal was a very bad deal for the United States. It gave all kinds of concession, it gave billions of dollars in sanctions relief, and it didn’t ultimately stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. It really didn’t even delay them, given their own technological development timelines. So I simply states, along with 46 other senators, the plain facts that if the United States Senate doesn’t ratify an international agreement as part of a treaty, then that counter party cannot be certain that a new administration will not reverse it.
HH: Now let me switch to you for a moment about Israel and Iran. Do you expect Iran to in any way react via a display of force from either Syria or Iranian territory against Israel in the aftermath of this decision, because Jerusalem Post and others are reporting very tense situation on the northern border in Israel.
TC: If Iran takes military action against Israel, that would be a very grave mistake, and they will pay a significant price by both Israel and the United States. Now Iran has been continually taking more and more provocative actions in southwestern Syria and southern Lebanon. So unfortunately, no one should be surprised that Israel is becoming more aggressive in the defense of its people and its territory. Unless Iran changes its behavior, I fear that those actions could escalate. But if Iran takes military action in the aftermath of the United States’ decision about the nuclear deal, they would be committing a grave mistake.
HH: Last question, Senator. Last week, you predicted Gina Haspel will clear committee this week with a bipartisan vote. Are you standing by that prediction?
TC: Well, the vote will technically be next week, Hugh, but I stand by my prediction that Gina will be recommended by the Senate Intelligence Committee with a bipartisan vote, and she will be confirmed on a bipartisan basis by the full Senate.
HH: Senator Tom Cotton, always a pleasure.
End of interview.