A likely 2016 presidential candidate said Sunday that he fears the possibility of Iran possessing a nuclear weapon more than the threat posed by the terrorist group known as ISIS, or the Islamic State.
“It’s not even close. An Iran with a nuclear weapon is the nightmare for us, Israel and the entire region,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Graham called both Iran and ISIS “our enemy.” But, when pressed on his charge against Iran, the senior senator from South Carolina called out Iran for destabilizing the region and building rockets that could carry nuclear weapons, called intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
“They're a cold-blooded, cruel regime that's killed American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. They're the leading state sponsor of terrorism,” he said. “They've tried to create a nuclear program, not a peaceful nuclear power plant. They're the enemy of us.”
Graham said current Iranian leadership, including President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, are not a so-called moderate regime.
“They're the root cause of this problem in the Middle East, as much as ISIL,” he said. “If they get more money from sanction relief, what would they do with it? Build schools and hospitals? No. They would advance their religious cause.”
In an interview before Graham’s comments, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told Chuck Todd that a nuclear agreement with Iran would enable the U.S. to enlist its help in getting Syrian President Bashar Assad out of power.
“We need Russia and Iran's help in moving Assad out. That has to come. You cannot settle Syria and leave Assad in power,” she said. “The degree to which we can work this out diplomatically is important. And, of course, that's where the nuclear agreement comes in because, as I look at it, the nuclear agreement could be a real sea change for Iran.”
Graham’s and Feinstein’s comments come after Secretary of State John Kerry’s meeting with Iran’s Zarif this week. The two sides in the negotiations have until the end of March to agree on the framework of a deal.
“At the end of the day, Congress should approve any deal between us and Iran. And I believe there's growing bipartisan support that sanctions should not be lifted unless Congress agrees,” Graham said.
Feinstein – the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee – also said she is pessimistic about the ongoing terror fight. She said the U.S. should authorize the use of force without a time limit in certain capacities, such as special operations, logistics and counterintelligence.
“I think this is going to go on and on and on until the new generations, who are the would-be fighters, come to the conclusion that the cruelty, the brutality and the savagery of this group does not befit their participation,” Feinstein said.