Virginia Senator Tim Kaine on Tuesday said IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot agrees the Iran nuclear deal “stopped” the Islamic Republic’s program, as Indiana Governor Mike Pence argued the pact “essentially guaranteed that Iran will someday become a nuclear power.”
Speaking at the vice presidential debate in Farmville, Virginia, which focused heavily on the nuclear accord, Pence also reprimanded Kaine for “boycotting” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress in March 2015 against the Iran deal.
Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate, argued that the world is safer than it was eight years ago, in part due to the Iran nuclear deal, which he touted as having “stopped” the nuclear program “without firing a shot.”
Hitting back, Pence — Donald Trump’s VP pick — said: “You didn’t stop the nuclear weapons program. You essentially guaranteed that Iran will someday become a nuclear power because there’s no limitations once the period time of the treaty comes off.”
Kaine subsequently interrupted to argue that “even the Israeli military says it stopped” the nuclear program.
The issue resurfaced later on in the debate, when Pence once again maintained the accord does not prevent Iran from obtaining weapons in the future. He also chided Kaine for “boycotting” Netanyahu’s controversial speech to Congress, which critics had argued constituted unprecedented meddling in domestic US affairs.
The Republican vice presidential candidate took issue with claims the Iran nuclear deal prevented Tehran from ever obtaining atomic weapons. “Well, that’s not what Israel thinks,” Pence said.
“Gadi Eisenkot, you can go check it,” retorted Kaine, referring to the IDF chief of staff.
Eisenkot in January said the Iran nuclear deal “is a strategic turning point” and “a big change in terms of the direction that Iran was headed, and in the way that we saw things,” but stopped short of endorsing the deal or asserting that it fully curtails Iran’s nuclear program.
“It has many risks, but also presents many opportunities. Our role is to look at the risk prism and the capability prism and to judge from that — not to assume that the worst-case scenario will take place, because that is as dangerous as the best-case scenario. Therefore, we are now revisiting our strategy,” the IDF chief said at the time.
Tempering his cautious praise, Eisenkot also said Israel would continue to monitor Iran closely because none of Iran’s basic interests had changed.
“In the 15-year time frame that we are looking toward, we are still keeping Iran high on our priority lists because we need to monitor its nuclear program. But this is a real change. This is a strategic turning point,” he said at the time.
The Virginia senator was also echoing comments by US President Barack Obama in August, who said the “Israeli military and security community… acknowledges this has been a game changer.”
Obama’s comments drew a fierce response from Israel’s Defense Ministry, which compared the year-old accord to the Munich Agreement signed by the European powers with Nazi Germany in 1938. Netanyahu also responded, more politely, to clarify that Israel’s opposition to the deal had not changed.
Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon in September also denied Israeli security officials now back the deal. In an LA Times op-ed last week, Ya’alon cautioned, furthermore, that “in 14 years, when critical restrictions will be lifted, the world may be in a worse position to prevent Iran’s nuclear project than ever before. In history and international politics, 14 years is the blink of an eye. And there are many factors — such as the possibility of global events that distract international attention from Iranian violations — that could shrink that time frame significantly.”
During the Tuesday debate, Pence accused Clinton of being the “architect of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.” The Middle East is “literally spinning out of control,” said Pence, and “America is less safe today.”
He also said it was “astonishing” the US government would pay Iran $1.3 billion in cash following the nuclear deal.
The two men repeatedly talked over each over as they clashed over Trump’s failure to release his tax records, social security and the prospect of mounting debt, forcing moderator Elaine Quijano to intervene and insist they cut it out.
AFP contributed to this report.