Senator Blumenthal discusses Iran with Michel Martin on NPR’s Tell Me More

Senator Blumenthal discusses Iran with Michel Martin  on NPR’s Tell Me More.


Transcript below:

Michel Martin:  Senator welcome to the program, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Senator Blumenthal: Thank you so much.

Michel Martin: Of course you know the President talked about the Iran issue in his press conference on Tuesday, it was the first press conference of the New Year and he talked about the fact that he feels that some of his critics have been irresponsible when talking about Iran and the need for military action. I’ll just play a short clip for those who missed it.


President Obama: Any time we consider military action that the American people understand there is going to be a price today, sometimes it’s necessary, but we don’t do it casually.


Michel Martin: So Senator we would like to ask you, as a person who has sometimes differed with President, the President of your party, whether you think that politics is infusing this debate or how much of this is just another differences of opinion about what the available data really means.

Senator Blumenthal: First, very important to understand that progress was made during these visits during these visits between the Prime Minister and the President, and even before these meetings I can tell you from having come back from a visit to Israel, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, as well as Afghanistan, you know the cooperation between the Israeli military and our military the Israeli intelligence and ours has never been closer so on a military to military intelligence basis, without the politics of the elected leaders and sometimes the personalities that collaboration  has never been stronger. And I think you’re right that we need to go beyond the partisan rhetoric here, because we face a real threat that is adverse to both the United States interest and the Israeli interest, and there is no question that a nuclear armed Iran will create a nuclear tinderbox in the Middle East. It will be an arms race among the Saudis and other countries responding to Iranian nuclear armament and access to terrorists that would love to have these nuclear armaments is a real possibility, in fact a likelihood because the Iranians have armed terrorists have sponsored them, have supported them, throughout the Middle East and the world. So, we need to focus on what is in the best interest of the United States. In this instance I think that those interests are aligned with the Israelis.

Michel Martin: The question though is, is there something that you think the President should do that he is not now doing?

Senator Blumenthal: I think that on the level of actions as much as words there needs to be continuing cooperation with the Israelis and perhaps covert actions that can be done collaboratively with them, but I do think that the President can continue moving in this direction.

Michel Martin: You mentioned that you and a bipartisan group of Senators crafted a resolution calling for free and fair elections in Iran. The results of last Friday’s election are in and they seem to have dealt a blow to the sitting President, Ahmadinejad   and I’d like to ask whether you have a sense that the elections did meet the standards for free and fair and is there any way in which these results should influence the United States’ posture towards on Iran’s nuclear programs.

Senator Blumenthal: The elections were in essence a fraud and a sham. Thousands of candidates were disqualified from participating. We called for international monitors to establish the evidence of that kind of fraud and travesty and we are going to continue to work in that direction again in a very bipartisan way.

Michel Martin: If you are just joining us, you are listening to Tell Me News, I’m Michel Moore from NPR news, you are listening to Senator Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, were talking about America’s options for dealing with Iran. Could you tell me a little bit more about the trip you just returned from as you just told us, and I wanted to ask if your trip affected your sense of what our policy should be?

Senator Blumenthal: It really enlightened me about what is happening in that part of the world. You know it is a very exciting time in the Middle East, which really can go either way in terms of the future of democracy there. Countries like Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, that we visited are literally writing constitutions, determining their fate and holding elections, and they are looking toward the United States for economic aid and support for those democratic institutions. So we need to stay engaged and continue to support the Democratic institutions and freedoms that they regard us as a paradigm embodying the best of what they’re seeking to emulate and there is a temptation on the part of the United States because we are war weary, and understandably so to turn inward. But I would urge that the United States continue to recognize its essential interest not only in political and strategic terms but also economic terms because we could sell goods to Egypt and Tunisia and even Libya eventually once order is restored and make sure that we create jobs in the United States as well as there.

Michel Martin: And to that end I just want to get a sense of this as well. You know after the President’s remarks about the Israel and Iran this week, the President went out of his to let the American people know, and the Israeli community know, and the world community know that as he put it, The United States has Israel’s back. You know the response from other quarter has not been positive, for example there are a number of Palestinian leaders that say that United States cannot now be considered an honest broker because the United States is bending so far backwards to reassure Israel, that they feel that sort of the credibility on the other side is now being lost, do you share that concern?

Senator Blumenthal: I think that the United States ought to continue to seek to be not just a supporter of Israel but also a supported for peace in the Middle East right now the focus is on Iran and going back to the question you asked earlier, what more can the president do?  Well he can continue the pressure on the economic track which I think is having an effect it really beginning to bite even cripple the Iranian economy and not wield on that pressure even though the Iranians now want to come to the table and negotiate. Now the other impression from my trip is the Iranians do not have a lot of real good friends and they are becoming increasingly isolated as is the chief allies that they have. And we should redouble the pressure on the world community and we should act together another impression from my trip, we are stronger when we act with countries in the Middle East that are part of the Arab League, like we are trying to do in Syria, and bring pressure, there, there.

Michel Martin: On the whole question of the sanctions, I wanted to ask you about that, now a few weeks ago we spoke with exiled Iranian human rights activist, someone who was actually arrested by the regime and an Iranian policy analyst and they actually disagreed on a lot of things. But they both said that sanctions are a real hardship on ordinary people in Iran and they said that effect seems to be counter to what the United States would want in that it seems to be giving the hardliners the another tool in their arsenal to say that the rest of the world hates us this is why we have to stick together and so on. How would you respond to that?

Senator Blumenthal: Eventually, the pressure of these economic sanctions will be seen as the blame of the Iranian government that is following policies that are responsible for that economic pressure and it may well be that in the short term there are some reaction against the American government because the Iranian government is seeking through its propaganda to place the blame on us but ultimately the blame will go where it belongs and looking at it big picture this kind of persuasive action has worked before with the South Africans and the other governments that have decided that it is not in their best interests to pursue nuclear armament and we need to adopt that track as first course and military attack should be a last resort.

Michel Martin: And finally Senator, as we mentioned in just looping back to where we started our conversation, as you know the United States and five other countries have agreed to new talks with Iran a lot of people are hailing this as a sort of de-escalation of tensions between Iran and the rest of the world. But people are taking a very strong look at whether Iran is truly compliant and participatory in these talks, I wanted to ask what is you pasture towards these talks, do you think that this a hopeful what are you looking for what should the American people looking for to see whether these talks bears any fruit.

Senator Blumenthal:  These talks should not be a means of delay. If we can make these economic sanctions work, if these talks are productive so much the better that they should be pursued in good faith, but we ought not to relent until the Iranians abandon their enrichment program aimed at nuclear armament. Clearly that is what they are doing now. One of my colleagues said that you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to know that the fuel that they are enriching is not going to be used for a power plant when it is buried under tons of granite, inside a mountain and all of our intelligence indicating what is being done shows that the talks should be pursued perhaps giving the Iranians a face saving device, but at the end of the day we should not relent on the economic or diplomatic fronts until we have achieved our objective.

Michel Martin: Senator Richard Blumenthal represents Connecticut in the United States Senate. He is a Democrat and he was kind enough to join us from the studios on Capitol Hill. Senator Blumenthal thank you so much for speaking with us.