Carter Insists Nuclear Deal Limits Iran, Not US Defense Department


By Cheryl Pellerin

The U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement limits Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear bomb but puts no limits on the Defense Department or the United States, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told a Senate panel on earlier this week.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action reached in Vienna this month must receive congressional approval before it is implemented.

Carter and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on U.S. interests and the military balance in the Middle East.

When implemented, Carter said, the agreement will effectively cut off Iran’s pathways to fissile material for a nuclear bomb, but it places no limitations on the Defense Department.

No U.S. Limitations

“It places no limits on our forces, our partnerships and alliances, our intensive and ongoing security cooperation, or on our development and fielding of new military capabilities — capabilities we will continue to advance,” he told the panel.

The department will continue to maintain a strong military posture to deter aggression, bolster the security of Israel and other allies and friends in the region, ensure freedom of navigation in the Gulf, check Iran’s malign influence, and degrade and ultimately defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, Carter added.

“We’re also continuing to advance our military capabilities that provide all options, as [President Barack Obama] has directed, should Iran walk away from its commitments under this deal,” he said.

Carter called the Iran agreement is an important step that keeps Iran from getting a nuclear weapon in a comprehensive and verifiable way.

“Once implemented,” he added, the agreement “will … remove a critical element of risk and uncertainty from the region.”

Other Areas of Concern

In his remarks, Dempsey said that, if followed, the Iran deal “addresses one critical and the most dangerous point of friction with the Iranian regime. But … there are at least five other malign activities which give us and our regional partners concern.”

These, he said, include ballistic missile technology, weapons trafficking, the use of surrogates and proxies to naval mines and undersea activity, and malicious activity in cyberspace.

“The negotiating deal does not alleviate our concerns in those five areas,” he said, “[or] change the military options at our disposal. And in our efforts to counter the Iranian regime’s malign activities, we will continue to engage our partners in the region to reassure them and to address these areas.”

The agreement’s successful negotiation is one part of the broader U.S. foreign and defense policy, Carter said, noting the Middle East remains important to U.S. national interests.

“As a result,” the secretary said, “the Department of Defense is committed to confronting the region’s two principal security challenges: Iran and ISIL.”

Describing his recent trip to the Middle East, Carter said he spoke with some of the men and women in uniform who are carrying out the Middle East strategy to let them know that the department is continuing full speed ahead, standing with its friends, standing up to ISIL, and standing against Iran’s malign activities.

“On ISIL … we have the right strategy in place, built on nine synchronized lines of effort to achieve ISIL’s lasting defeat. But we continue to strengthen execution,” Carter said.

Working with Partners

In Iraq and elsewhere, the department is working with partners on the ground and in a global coalition to enable capable and motivated ground forces to win back Iraq’s sovereignty and peace in its own territory, he added.

“I saw several parts of this effort last week and spoke with some of our partners on the ground. We’re headed in the right direction in this counter-ISIL effort: we’ve made some progress but we need to make more,” he told the panel.

“If Iran were to commit aggression, our robust force posture ensures we can rapidly surge an overwhelming array of forces into the region,” the secretary added, “leveraging our most advanced capabilities, married with sophisticated munitions that put no target out of reach.”

Iran and its proxies still present security challenges, Carter said, noting Iran’s support of Hezbollah and the Assad regime in Syria, its contribution to disorder in Yemen and its hostility and violence toward Israel.

The secretary said he made it clear last week in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Iraq that the department will continue to meet its commitments to friends and allies in the region, especially Israel, and continue to build on and enhance such cooperation.

“I also made clear that we will continue to maintain our robust regional force posture ashore and afloat, which includes tens of thousands of American personnel and our most sophisticated ground, maritime, air and ballistic-missile defense assets,” he said.

“Our friends understand, despite our differences with some of them about the merits of this deal,” Carter added, “that we have an enduring commitment to deterrence and to regional security.”

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