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Sen. Lindsey Graham: Nuclear Deal With Iran 'Has To Include Their Behavior'


The nuclear agreement with Iran is according to our next guest, a terrible deal. Anybody could have done better. You've taken a can of gasoline and thrown it on a fire. Those are the words of Lindsey Graham, U.S. Senator from South Carolina and an announced Republican presidential candidate. Senator Graham, thanks for joining with us today.

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: How is it inflammatory to make Iran give up nearly all the uranium it's enriched, most of it centrifuges and accept international inspections. Doesn't that at least buy 15 years?

GRAHAM: Well, what you've done is you've taken the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the name of trying to dismantle their program, which was the original goal. You've locked in place an industrial size nuclear enrichment program encouraging and almost requiring Sunni Arabs to get a bomb of their because it's just a matter of time before Iran does. But that wasn't enough. You get the largest state sponsor of terrorism about $100 billion to fuel their war machine. You might as well have written a check to Assad, Hamas and Hezbollah.

SIEGEL: But do you accept the argument that the deal that was negotiated was designed to be and is simply about the Iranian nuclear program?

GRAHAM: No, I don't.

SIEGEL: You don't accept that?

GRAHAM: Well, I accept that's what they did. I think that's the dumbest thing you could've possibly done because what you've done now is taken all of the leverage off the table to stop their destructive behavior.

SIEGEL: You're talking about Iran's behavior in the region. When global sanctions were applied against Iran, it was about their nuclear program. Wasn't it implicit in that that if they could come to terms on the nuclear issues alone, sanctions would have to be lifted in the first place?

GRAHAM: The arms embargo was about their behavior (laughter). At the end of the day, you're making a huge mistake not to understand that a deal with Iran has to include their behavior. Why in the world would you want to allow them to have more money unless they change their behavior towards their neighbors?

SIEGEL: The president has contrasted the nuclear deal with Iran with the military option. If opponents of this deal succeed in overriding his veto...

GRAHAM: Right. Yes.

SIEGEL: ...Does that mean the U.S. should be much more ready to use military force against Iran?

GRAHAM: Yes. Here's what I would tell the Iranians. If you want a nuclear power program for peaceful purposes, you can have it. If you want a large enrichment program, you're not going to get it because we don't trust you. You've lied about your ambitions in the past. You've hidden nuclear facilities.

I would tell the Iranians you can have a small enrichment program consistent with supplying the needs of one reactor for peaceful purposes. If you want any more than that, the answer is no. You're not going to get any sanctions relief until you stop destabilizing the region. No more weapons until you change your behavior. And if you try to break out and you don't like the construct and you try to get a nuclear weapon, then that will be a provocative act. If you want a war, you're going to lose it.

SIEGEL: When you say of the negotiations, anybody could have done better, are you confident that as president, you could not just demand better, but you could get the Iranians...

GRAHAM: Oh, my God, yes.

SIEGEL: ...the Russians, the Chinese and the Europeans all to agree to a much tougher deal?

GRAHAM: Yes. There's no way in hell I would agree to lift the arms embargo. That wasn't even on the table.

SIEGEL: But what if the Russians said we're not part of this deal in that case?

GRAHAM: Well, that's fine, you know? We have a lot of power. The United States is going to lead the world, or somebody else will. If I'm president of the United States, we're going to re-impose sanctions until they change their behavior. And I'll tell every French and German company if you do business with Iran, you're going to lose the ability to do business in America. I would stop this deal. I would tell our allies we're not going to go through with it on our part. You do whatever you would like. America's not going to be part of empowering a radical Islamic regime with more money, more weapons and create a nuclear arms race. We're not going down that road.

SIEGEL: But if indeed a military option were required, wouldn't you need those very countries that you'd be telling to buzz off right there to be part of an alliance to do anything credible?

GRAHAM: No. I think we could handle the Iranians alone if we had to, and they know that. I don't want a war with Iran, but let me tell you this. If they choose a military confrontation - and they'd have to choose - they will lose it. We have a lot of capability. They have an old Air Force, a small Navy. If the Ayatollah doesn't believe that the military option is seriously on the table, they're going to keep playing a game and keep playing a game.

If I were president of the United States, I would give them choices. They could have a small program for peaceful purposes. With behavior changes, they could be part of the family of nations. Without that, they're not going to get more money; they're not going to get more weapons. And if they try to break out, we're going to have a military confrontation they will lose. If you're not that forceful, you're going to set the Mideast on fire. It already is on fire. This is gasoline on a fire.

SIEGEL: That's Republican senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Senator Graham, thanks a lot for talking with us today.

GRAHAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.