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Mullen: Iran 'More Difficult Challenge' than ISIS

A former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that Iran poses “a much more difficult challenge” than the threat posed by the terrorist group ISIS.

A former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who served in both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations said Sunday that Iran poses “a much more difficult challenge” than the threat posed by the terrorist group ISIS.

Iran is an "incredibly complex country that we don't understand very well. We've had no relations with them for 35 years," Retired Adm. Michael Mullen said on NBC’s "Meet the Press."

Mullen said the United States will have to accept the role Iranian militias play in the fight against ISIS in northern Iraq. While the number one priority is to defeat ISIS, Mullen said it’s worth remembering that the Iranian regime committed acts of terrorism, which led to the war in Iraq.

"Working together right now in a constructive way to eliminate the number one threat in Iraq, I don't think that opens the door for accepting who they are and what they've done in the past," Mullen said. "And once we're beyond ISIS, I think that the relationship we have with Iran, from the standpoint of what they've done for so long, will be based on the elimination of those kinds of terrorist activities that are evident throughout the region."

Sen. Roger Wicker, the head of the Republican Party’s fundraising arm in the Senate, said he does not have confidence that Iran will abide by a potential agreement. Wicker was one of 47 senators to sign an open letter to Iranian leaders this week.

"They are the chief exporter of terrorism around in that region," the Mississippi Republican told Chuck Todd in a subsequent interview.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry is traveling to Switzerland this weekend to continue the Iranian nuclear talks with officials from Iran, the U.K., France, China, Germany and Russia. Kerry and other White House officials have denounced calls from Capitol Hill for oversight of the talks. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough sent a letter to Republican Sen. Bob Corker Saturday asking him not to go forward with his legislation requiring congressional oversight of a potential deal until at least June.

“There's no reason to wait till June on our bill. All our bill does is sets up the process under which Congress reviews a deal,” Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, a co-sponsor of the Corker bill, said. “If the White House gives sanctions relief under executive sanctions, they have complete authority to do that without Congress. If they want to give international sanctions relief and can convince partners to do that, they can do that without Congress. Only when they touch the congressional sanctions must Congress get involved.”

Wicker followed up on Kaine’s comments.

"What they said this morning in the new letter is not only if we get a preliminary deal must Congress not pass legislation, but they’re telling Tim Kaine and Bob Corker, the people that have negotiated with six Republicans and six Democrats, ‘You can't pass legislation until I, the president, get a final deal negotiated in June. And only then will a coequal branch of the United States government be allowed to weigh in,’” he said. “I would think that Senator Kaine would be frustrated by that.”

-- Daniel Cooney