Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Robert Gates on Iran

The following is an excerpt of the transcript from today's Senate Armed Services Confirmation Hearing of Robert Gates to be the next Secretary of Defense and include key positions on Iran.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D-WV): Mr. Chairman, I thank you. Dr. Gates, our relationship goes back over a number of years. Do you support -- now we hear all these rumors about the potential for an attack on Iran, due to its nuclear weapons program, or on Syria, due to its support of terrorism. Do you support an attack on Iran?

MR. GATES: Senator Byrd, I think that military action against Iran would be an absolute last resort; that any problems that we have with Iran, our first option should be diplomacy and working with our allies to try and deal with the problems that Iran is posing to us. I think that we have seen in Iraq that once war is unleashed, it becomes unpredictable. And I think that the consequences of a conflict -- a military conflict with Iran could be quite dramatic. And therefore, I would counsel against military action, except as a last resort and if we felt that our vital interests were threatened.

SEN. BYRD: Do you support an attack on Syria?

MR. GATES: No, sir, I do not.

SEN. BYRD: Do you believe the president has the authority, under either the 9/11 war resolution or the Iraq war resolution, to attack Iran or to attack Syria?

MR. GATES: To the best of my knowledge of both of those authorizations, I don't believe so.

SEN. BYRD: Would you briefly describe your view of the likely consequences of a U.S. attack on Iran.

MR. GATES: It's always awkward to talk about hypotheticals in this case. But I think that while Iran cannot attack us directly militarily, I think that their capacity to potentially close off the Persian Gulf to all exports of oil, their potential to unleash asignificant wave of terror both in the -- well, in the Middle East and in Europe and even here in this country is very real. They are certainly not being helpful in Iraq and are doing us -- I think doing damage to our interests there, but I think they could do a lot more to hurt our effort in Iraq. I think that they could provide certain kinds of weapons of mass destruction, particularly chemical and biological weapons, to terrorist groups. Their ability to get Hezbollah to further destabilize Lebanon I think is very real. So I think that while their ability to retaliate against us in a conventional military way is quite limited, they have the capacity to do all of the things, and perhaps more, that I just described.

SEN. BYRD: What about an attack on Syria? Could you briefly describe your view of the likely consequences of a U.S. attack on Syria.

MR. GATES: I think the Syrian capacity to do harm to us is far more limited than that in -- of Iran, but I believe that a military attack by the United States on Syria would have dramatic consequences for us throughout the Middle East in terms of our relationships with a wide range of countries in that area. I think that it would give rise to significantly greater anti-Americanism than we have seen to date. I think it would immensely complicate our relationships with virtually every country in the region.

SEN. BYRD: Would you say that an attack on either Iran or Syria would worsen the violence in Iraq and lead to greater American casualties?

MR. GATES: Yes, sir, I think that's very likely.

SEN. BYRD: Your answer is yes on both questions.

MR. GATES: Yes, sir. Very likely.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'd like to add my voice to many others who have praised you for your leadership. I've really enjoyed being on this committee, and you've made it a real pleasure to serve here. Dr. Gates, thank you for your willingness to serve. It looks like we're going to be working together for at least a couple more years. Things are going pretty well for you right now. Iran. Do you believe the Iranians are trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability?

MR. GATES: Yes, sir, I do.

SEN. GRAHAM: Do you believe the president of Iran is lying when he says he's not?

MR. GATES: Yes, sir.

SEN. GRAHAM: Do you believe the Iranians would consider using that nuclear weapons capability against the nation of Israel?

MR. GATES: I don't know that they would do that, Senator. I think that the risks for them obviously are enormously high. I think that they see value --

SEN. GRAHAM: If I may?

MR. GATES: Yes, sir.

SEN. GRAHAM: The president of Iran has publicly disavowed the existence of the Holocaust, he has publicly stated that he would like to wipe Israel off the map. Do you think he's kidding?

MR. GATES: No, I don't think he's kidding. And -- but I think that there are, in fact, higher powers in Iran than he, than the president. And I think that while they are certainly pressing, in my opinion, for a nuclear capability, I think that they would see it in the first instance as a deterrent. They are surrounded by powers with nuclear weapons -- Pakistan to their east, the Russians to the north, theIsraelis to the west, and us in the Persian Gulf --

SEN. GRAHAM: Can you assure the Israelis that they will not attackIsrael with a nuclear weapon, if they acquire one?

MR. GATES: No, sir, I don't think that anybody can provide that assurance.

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