WASHINGTON – Speaker of the House Paul Ryan delivered on Monday some of the 2017 AIPAC Policy Conference’s toughest talk on Iran and the controversial nuclear deal signed two years ago, telling thousands of conference-goers that Tehran is a danger to the US and Israel, urging non-nuclear sanctions on the regime, and suggesting that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps be listed by the US as a foreign terrorist organization.
Speaking shortly after US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley brought down the house at the event, and less than a week after a crushing legislative defeat over health care, Ryan seemed to have the cards stacked against him when he took the stage in the Verizon Arena in Washington Monday afternoon. Ryan, however, energized the crowd, drawing loud applause for his criticism of Iran, the Obama administration, and the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement (BDS).
“Our words will always be backed up with real concrete actions,” Ryan promised the crowd. Describing a recent visit to Israel, Ryan noted that “Israel does not take our support for granted and neither do we. The US-Israel relationship isn’t a one way street but a strategic partnership rooted in shared values and interests.”
While other speakers made passing references to the infamous spats between former president Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ryan took on the previous administration’s record head on.
“These past eight years, they’ve been tough, our friendship has been tested,” Ryan said. “No single political spat or public disagreement can sever our political alliance with Israel but it can damage trust.”
“I think the actions of the past administration damaged this trust,” Ryan declared to applause from the crowd.
In contrast, Ryan emphasized, the current president’s “commitment to Israel is sacrosanct. Congress’s commitment to Israel is sacrosanct.”
Ryan’s critique of the Obama administration did not end with his general complaint, but was further emphasized in the most ringing criticism of the Iran nuclear deal heard on the main stage during the confab.
The deal, Ryan complained “has been an unmitigated disaster – and I don’t say that lightly.” Iran, Ryan complained, has stepped up its support for terrorism, increased its human rights abuses, and ramped up its ballistic missile program following the July 2015 agreement – while also gaining additional funds as a result of sanctions relief.
Describing the situation as “dangerous for the United States and the world,” Ryan told the crowd that “it is long past time that we rigorously enforce this deal and hold the Iranians accountable when they violate it.”
“A fatal flaw in this agreement is that even if Iran cooperates it provides them with a patient pathway to nuclear capability,” he said, delineating the time frames in which deal-imposed restrictions are gradually lifted. “We must continue to hit the regime with punishing non-nuclear sanctions for its range of illicit activities.”
Ryan emphasized that in recent weeks, both Congress and the Trump administration have taken steps to increase such sanctions.
The speaker added that sanctions were not the only tool in Washington’s toolbox to combat a nuclear resurgent Iran.
“We must reserve the right to explore options dealing with [the deal’s] most fatal flaws,” Ryan declared. “When it comes to preventing a nuclear Iran, all options can and must remain on the table.”
Ryan stressed that Washington should pursue additional sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which he described as “Iran’s army of terror” and should “consider designating them as a foreign terror organization.” He also suggested that the US should work “to stop Iranian airlines from delivering arms and fighters across the Middle East.”
Ryan also talked up the importance of ensuring that Washington provides security assistance to Israel.
“So long as I am in this job as speaker, we will meet our military commitments to Israel and we will be there provide additional funding in times of crisis,” he declared in a dig at the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding. The 10-year defense agreement signed under the Obama administration provided $38 billion in aid to Israel, but came with restrictions on Israel’s ability to ask for more funds.
While hailing Israel’s military capabilities and its success in fighting terror, the Jewish state, said Ryan “faces a new threat.”
Israel’s success in fighting terrorism has led enemies to resort to an insidious campaign of political and economic warfare designed to undermine Israel,” Ryan said in reference to the BDS movement.
“We know the goal is to delegitimize Israel and isolate her under the thin veil of social justice and human rights. We saw this in December at the United Nations,” he said in reference to the passage at the Security Council of Resolution 2334 which calls on Israel to stop settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The measure was allowed through when the US, then under the leadership of the Obama administration, chose not to use its veto power.
Ryan said the UN is “an organization that is obsessed with singling out and demonizing Israel. So I want to say to the UN: We will not tolerate your anti-Israel bias, we will not tolerate it one bit.”
He added that the Trump administration and Trump’s US envoy to the UN, Haley, would not tolerate it either, to wild applause from the audience.
The BDS movement, said Ryan, is “nothing short of another incarnation of anti-Semitism. That’s what this is. Let’s not be fooled by those who tell us this is about peace. This has never been about peace.”