November 10th, 2013

Graham: New sanctions on Iran needed

Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) spoke EXCLUSIVELY to CNN about the possibility of a U.S.-Iranian breakthrough in nuclear talks, and his plans to block Obama administration nominees after CBS’s “60 Minutes” revealed flaws in their Benghazi report.

Videos and transcript of the interview are available after the jump.


VIDEO: Graham: Blocking Obama nominations


CROWLEY: Appreciate your time this morning.

Joining me now, Senator Lindsey Graham.

Senator, let’s start off with this deal that did not quite happen in Geneva. I want to ask you directly, what would Iran have to do before you would believe the U.S. could ease some of the sanctions?

GRAHAM: Well, that’s very good question. I think you’ll see a bipartisan push by the Congress to do two things — to introduce another round of sanctions. We believe that sanctions and the threat of military force is the only thing that’s going to bring the Iranians to the table.

But what would a good outcome look like?

There will be a bipartisan resolution introduced into the Congress very soon that has four parts to it. A sensible outcome would mean that stop enriching, dismantle the centrifuges, stop the plutonium producing reactor at Arak. If you want a peaceful nuclear power program, which I’m fine with in Iran, let the international community control the fuel cycle, where the Iranian program looks like Mexico and Canada, not North Korea.

And turn over all highly enriched uranium that they have in their possession to the international community.

Those four things, I think, would be a good outcome for the world, and, quite frankly, Iran.

CROWLEY: Well, that sounds like the end deal as opposed to an interim deal.


CROWLEY: Is there any way that you think Congress could approve a resolution, which I’m assuming doesn’t have the force of law — but correct me if I’m wrong on that.

GRAHAM: Right.

CROWLEY: But they were looking for, it sounds to me, like what Secretary Kerry and the president is looking for is something to kind of put Iran on hold, as far as its nuclear program was concerned, while they work out some of those big things that you’re talking about.

GRAHAM: Well, my fear is that we’re going to wind up creating a North Korea type situation in the Mideast, where we negotiate with Iran and one day you wake up, they don’t give up their enrichment capabilities, they don’t divest themselves of a plutonium producing reactor, the centrifuges continue to spin and you’re going to have a nuclear capable — a nuclear Iran. And that would be far more destabilizing for the Mideast than a nuclear North Korea for the Korean Peninsula.

So I am about the end game. I’m about where does this end?

How does this movie with Iran end?

If it ends with the four things I said, I would be satisfied. If it ends with anything less, then the world will regret this.

The Israelis are apoplectic about what we’re doing. I’ve never been more worried about the — the Obama administration’s approach to the Mideast than I am now. We seem to want deals worse than anybody else in the region. Thank God for France and thank God for pushback.

CROWLEY: Well, there’s words you haven’t heard recently — thank God for France.

But let me ask you…



GRAHAM: — the French are becoming very good leaders in the Mideast.

CROWLEY: You have suggested that you want more sanctions against Iran and that you might put them on a defense bill, which we think is going to come up next week in the Senate.

GRAHAM: Right.

CROWLEY: Would you push for more sanctions?

And do you think there is a majority there that would agree to that?

GRAHAM: The best way is to start in the Banking Committee, to have a new round of sanctions that could be relieved if Iran does the right thing. We believe — the Congress believes that sanctions, along with the threat of credible military force by the United States and Israel, has gotten us to this point, that if you back off now, you’re sending the worst possible signals.

But these new round of sanctions could basically be waived if the Iranians do the right thing.

And let’s just look at it from the 30,000 foot view here. You’ve got a regime that’s lying about what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to build a nuclear weapon. They’ve never been trying to build a peaceful nuclear power plant. For 30 years, they’ve been terrorizing the region and the world. They’re the largest state sponsor of terrorism.

Why in the world would anybody want this regime, with their agenda threatening to wipe Israel off the map, at the end of the day, to have any highly enriched uranium in their possession, to have a plutonium producing reactor and the capability to enrich uranium to make a nuclear weapon? CROWLEY: Well, the question is, though…

GRAHAM: Given their behavior and the…

CROWLEY: — do you think that…

GRAHAM: — they should (INAUDIBLE).

CROWLEY: — more sanctions — do you think that more sanctions are needed at a time when the U.S. is trying to come to an interim deal?

Those seem at opposing, you know, toward opposing ends.

GRAHAM: I think the only thing that’s got them to the table — and I will give the Obama administration credit for this. They’ve created really good international sanctions. If we back off now, I think that’s exactly the wrong signal. I want to come up with a deal, a conclusion, that will make sure Iran doesn’t possess the capability in the future to produce a nuclear weapon. That should be the goal of the world, given who we’re dealing with, given the threats they lodge against Israel and the destabilizing effect. If the Iranians develop a nuclear capability, the Sunni Arabs will want one to counter the Iranians. Then you’re walking down the — marching down the road of Armageddon.

So a new round of sanctions will be coming from the Congress. The Congress will define the end game, because we’re worried about the end game, not some interim deal. You can’t trust the Iranians. They’re lying about their nuclear program. They’ve been hiding from the international community very important aspects of their nuclear program. I want a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear problem. I don’t want a North Korea in the Mideast. And that’s where we’re headed if we continue to negotiate the way we are.

CROWLEY: OK. About Benghazi, I want to get you on the record about this.

GRAHAM: Um-hmm.

CROWLEY: CBS aired a piece that was centered around a man, a British man who said that he was there, that he got into the compound where the four Americans were killed. GRAHAM: Right.

CROWLEY: He seemed to substantiate some of the suspicions that this clearly was not a well fortified place, that there had been signs all along that terrorists intended to attack it.

Now it turns out that CBS has backed away from their eyewitness, because it does not appear that he told the truth.

Now you, based on that report, went after the president’s nominees and said any nominee that comes up here, I’m going to block until we can talk to American eyewitnesses.

GRAHAM: Right.

CROWLEY: I just want to remind you of something you said at the time.

GRAHAM: Right.


GRAHAM: How can I explain to the people in my home state and throughout the country that the story they told us about Benghazi holds water after the “60 Minutes” story?


CROWLEY: The “60” — but the “60 Minutes” story was not true.

GRAHAM: Right.

CROWLEY: Will you now end your threat to place a hold on the president’s nominees?

GRAHAM: No. My — my request has been going on for a year, to talk to the five survivors of the State Department. I never asked for the British contractor. I didn’t know he exited.

We’ve written one letter to the president — myself, Kelly Ayotte and John McCain; two to Secretary Kerry. On the 24th of September, we said we would like to interview the survivors, the five State Department officials, who have been interviewed by the administration, but not by Congress.

The “60 Minutes” story says that the attack on the compounded was not a protest, but a preplanned al Qaeda attack that you could see coming for months.

GRAHAM: And people who said that were not the British contractor.

CROWLEY: Sure, but…

GRAHAM: I want to ask the survivors, who’ve never been interviewed by the Congress — please let me finish here — did you report a protest?

Did you report — did you ever indicate there was a protest?

Did you say this was a terrorist attack from the beginning?

When you were interviewed by the FBI four days later, did you ever mention a protest?

If the survivors, Candy, never said there was a protest, where did the story come from?

And did these survivors — would they tell me, if I asked them, I had a chance to, was there inadequate security, in your mind?

Could you see al Qaeda buildup in Benghazi?

Did you tell anybody about the threat of al Qaeda?

CROWLEY: Sure, Senator…

GRAHAM: And how did they respond?

CROWLEY: OK, if I could…

GRAHAM: To me, that’s the essence of what I’m trying to get at.

CROWLEY: Right. And I understand. And you’ve been at it for some time.

GRAHAM: A year.

CROWLEY: But what spurred your action to block the president’s nominees was the “60 Minutes” report. So that’s what prompted you to do this…

GRAHAM: That’s…

CROWLEY: — and now — I mean you did it the day after and you cited it. And so my question is…

GRAHAM: Yes, ma’am.

CROWLEY: — are there other ways to get out — to get what you want…

GRAHAM: Yes, ma’am. There are.

CROWLEY: — without threatening the president’s — the head of the Fed or the head of homeland security agency?

GRAHAM: I met with the State Department Thursday about my desire to talk to the five survivors, American personnel, State Department employees, American citizens, independent of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board. Nobody in Congress has got to talk to these people.

I released two ambassadors that I had a hold on, because we’re trying to work out a bipartisan way to interview these witnesses. why?

Oversight is important. I want to perform oversight.


GRAHAM: I’m not trying to prosecute a crime.

I’m not trying to defend the British contractor. I want to hear from the people that worked for us, that are American citizens in harm’s way — what did you feel like when you were told nobody was coming to help you?

Did you see a protest?

Did you report a protest?


GRAHAM: Did you tell the FBI about a protest?

And if they didn’t, did you see security concerns before the attack?

Did you report them and who to?

Fourteen months after the attack, we don’t — we haven’t heard from those who survived the attack. Congress has an independent duty…


GRAHAM: — to find out what happened in Benghazi. And that’s what I’m after. And I hope we can find a way to get these interviews and release all of the holds.

CROWLEY: I understand. But I want to clarify two things. Right now, your threat to hold up nominees stands?

GRAHAM: I’ve released two. I released two…


GRAHAM: — with the understanding that we’re going to have a bipartisan process to interview the survivors…


GRAHAM: — to ask the basic questions, was there ever a protest?

Did you report a protest?

Were you concerned about security before the attack?

CROWLEY: Right. But you…

GRAHAM: Who did you talk to…

CROWLEY: — but it holds in general?

GRAHAM: — and what did they tell you?

CROWLEY: Depending on the situation, your threat (INAUDIBLE) holds?



And finally…

GRAHAM: But the only — yes, the only — and can I just say, the only reason is I’ve been trying for a year to get the interviews without holds. And you just can’t allow something this bad and this big of a national security failure, for the administration to investigate itself. I don’t want to hold anybody.


GRAHAM: All I want to do is talk to the survivors, protecting their security, protecting their identity, to find out exactly what did happen.


GRAHAM: Was it a protest?

As it an al Qaeda-inspired (INAUDIBLE)?

CROWLEY: OK. Let me ask you quickly…

GRAHAM: How did President Obama…

CROWLEY: Right. GRAHAM: — and Secretary Clinton miss the rise of al Qaeda in Libya?

CROWLEY: And let me just say — GRAHAM: (INAUDIBLE).

CROWLEY: — say quickly, and see if I can get a quick answer from you. We know that one eyewitness in the region has testified, at least on the House side, behind closed doors.


CROWLEY: CNN has learned that there will be three former security people. They’re described as former SEAL, a former Ranger, a former Marine…

GRAHAM: Right.

CROWLEY: — will testify next week.

How many is enough for you?

GRAHAM: That’s good.

OK. There are five State Department survivors that were interviewed by the Accountability Review Board appointed by Secretary Clinton. Those five, and the CIA officials who have relevant information about Benghazi, that’s all, less than 30, probably. All I’m trying to do is establish…

CROWLEY: But you want 30…

GRAHAM: — where the protest story comes from.

CROWLEY: Right. You want 30…

GRAHAM: I don’t know how many…

CROWLEY: — there’s 30 folks you want to talk to?


CROWLEY: OK. All right.

GRAHAM: Well, I don’t know — I don’t know how many in the CIA. And the CIA has been pretty good. They’re providing witnesses to their oversight committees.


GRAHAM: The State Department has thus far refused to allow anybody in Congress to talk to these five. And we’re going to talk to them, because they possess the best information about what happened in Benghazi…

CROWLEY: OK. GRAHAM: — more than you and I know. And I want to find out what they know.

CROWLEY: It’s certainly more than I know at this point.

GRAHAM: OK. All right.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much, Senator.

I appreciate your time this morning.

GRAHAM: Me, too.

Thank you.