Joe Lieberman on Iran Deal, Jerusalem Embassy

Former Senator Joe Lieberman discussed the Iranian elections and the implications of the outcome in a phone interview with Jewish Insider on Wednesday.

“Unfortunately I would say that there is no preferable outcome for the United States,” Lieberman said about the May 19 Iranian presidential election. “In other words, Rouhani was described as the moderate has been the leader of the government during the time when they have done so much damage in their own countries with a number of executions of political opponents is up. They’ve also presented thousands of IRGC soldiers into Syria. They’ve greatly strengthened Hezbollah which strengthened Syria, but also threatening Israel. And they’re involved in aggression in Yemen. So he may call himself a moderate, but he’s not. Ebrahim Raisi, the main opponent to Rouhani, seems to be more theologically conservative and enjoys, it appears, the backing of the Supreme Leader. But in the end, the Supreme Leader is the power and he’s not changing. In fact, very little has changed about the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran since 1979 when it seized power. And, therefore, they remain, as they say themselves, our determined and intransigent enemies.”

Lieberman on its impact over the nuclear deal: “I would guess that whoever wins the election in Iran will stick to the nuclear agreement to the same extent, because it benefits Iran so much. But they need constant monitoring and inspection to guarantee that they’re keeping their part of the bargain. The problem obviously is that they’ve already received as a result of sending the agreement, billions of dollars that they’re using to strengthen themselves militarily and politically. And again, not by my estimate, but by the words of the Supreme Leader, the nuclear agreement was separate. It has nothing to do with their hatred of the United States or Israel and in fact of their Sunni Arab neighbors. So I don’t expect much to change.”

“I think the change that’s occurred, if I may, on the nuclear agreement, the more significant change is the election of President Trump in the US. And I speak as a supporter of Hillary Clinton, but I think the change, let’s put it this way, from President Obama to President Trump, with regard to the nuclear agreement, is very significant. Unlike President Obama, President Trump is not committed to sort of protecting this agreement and in some sense bending over backward or closing our eyes to what the Iranians are doing in order to sustain the agreement. President Trump as you know has been a critic of the agreement from the beginning. And I think we can count on his administration to demand full compliance, not only with the agreement, but as he’s recently said when he said the Iranians were not keeping the spirit of the agreement and Secretary Tillerson has said, across a wide array of activities: support of terrorism, aggression in the region, particularly in Syria and in Yemen, and a repression of the human rights of people in Iran.”

On how to address the Iran deal going forward: “I think the first and most important thing that could be done by Congress and the President is to impose new sanctions on Iran for their bad behavior in so many other areas: the firing of ballistic missiles, the aggression in Syria and Yemen, and the human rights violation in their own country. And for the administration to both accept and sign those new sanctions, but also to enforce them. And I think that then the pressure is on Iran to either accept that new series of economic sanctions or itself to break out of the agreement. And they may just break out of the agreement since they’ve gotten so much up front from us. But I think in other words the important point is essentially to react to what respond directly or what the Supreme Leader, Khamenei, has said, which is, ‘This is an agreement that is separate from everything else we do.’ Obviously if we see them really beginning to break out and build a nuclear weapon, then we have the tough decision to make, which is whether to take military action to stop them, but we’re not there yet.”

Lieberman on whether he thinks his friend Ambassador David Friedman will work from Jerusalem when he formally assumes his position in Israel: “I don’t know. I’m going to leave that one to President Trump. I mean, clearly I hope that the President when the next waiver date comes up, which is June 1st, he announces that one, the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which it self-evidently is, and two, that we’re beginning the process of moving our embassy there. I was a lead co-sponsor on the Democratic side in the 1990s of the legislation that mandated that the embassy move to Jerusalem. And so it’s very important to me from an American point of view because this is still, I believe, the only country in the world where we don’t have our embassy in a city that the host country designates as its capital. And when you think that this is Israel, one of America’s closest allies in the world, it is a sign of American weakness that we don’t go ahead and put our actions where our principles are and our policies are and that means moving our embassy to Jerusalem.”

“So I hope before long David Friedman will be Ambassador Friedman he will be working out of Jerusalem and before long moving there as well. And it’s important to say something you know, the embassy’s going to be located on land which has been Israeli since ’48. So this move will not at all affect negotiations regarding land with the Palestinians. And it’s just a falsehood to argue that it will unless one believes that Israel has no right to any of Jerusalem, which obviously is something that is a position America would never accept.”

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