Q&A with Ted Lieu: Netanyahu’s speech, potential deal with Iran
Ted Lieu: The United States and Israel have an unbreakable bond and we share common values and policy goals, including preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. I appreciated the Prime Minister’s praise for the high level of cooperation between the United States and Israel and the support Israel has received from President Obama.
JJ: Prime Minister Netanyahu said that no deal is better than the currently proposed deal. Do you agree with that?
Lieu: Having no deal is certainly better than a bad deal, but it is premature to judge an agreement that has yet to materialize. I have some strong reservations as to whether Iran can be trusted and will approach any deal with a healthy sense of skepticism.
JJ: Prime Minister Netanyahu said that Iran needs to do three things before restrictions on its nuclear program are eased: 1) No more aggression against its neighbors. 2) No more support of global terrorism. 3) Stop calling for Israel's destruction. Do you agree that those three parameters should be met before a deal is signed with Iran?
Lieu: Yes. There is no question that Iran is a destabilizing actor in the region, funding terror groups and threatening to “wipe Israel off the map.” Until that behavior stops, we need to continue to hold them accountable.
JJ: Any position yet on how you plan to vote on either the "Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015" or the "Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015"?
Lieu: I would vote yes. In my experience, bad actors respond to threats of military action or sanctions. We need to continue to follow that course. I support the decision by Sen. Menendez to give the Administration until an internal March deadline to reach a framework agreement before moving forward with new legislation. If Iran continues to obfuscate in negotiations and that deadline is missed, I will support trigger sanctions legislation that will increase pressure on Iran to seize the moment.
Congress has a clear role to play in any hypothetical agreement with Iran: the U.S. cannot give Iran the permanent sanctions relief it wants without Congress voting to lift the sanctions regime. I will support legislation that reaffirms this principle and allows Congress time to review any deal reached.
JJ: Will the politicization that accompanied this speech make it harder for you (and your fellow Democrats) to oppose the White House on this if you believe this deal is bad?
Lieu: The speech has been politicized for a variety of reasons, but support for Israel transcends party affiliation and personality clashes. We have to remember the bigger picture: the U.S.-Israel alliance is too important to be hijacked by political interests or undermined by perceived riffs. “Speech controversies” will come and go as they always have, but our countries’ shared values remain and Congress’ bipartisan support for a strong U.S.-Israel partnership is ironclad.
JJ: What are your general thoughts on the politicization of the past few weeks? Do you think it was wrong for Rep. Boehner to invite Netanyahu? Do you think it was wrong for Netanyahu to accept it? Would it be different if Netanyahu had come right after Israeli elections (if he won)?
Lieu: On the process side, Speaker Boehner has been heavily criticized for failing to coordinate with the White House and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and for causing a timing conflict with the Israeli elections. I share in that criticism. Speaker Boehner injected partisan politics into the U.S.-Israel relationship. This is not a political game. We are talking about the existence of Israel. Partisanship should have no role in the vital U.S.-Israel relationship. There is no reason that a speech from the leader of one our strongest allies should have been politicized at all.
JJ: Did you get a sense from Netanyahu on what's a better way forward other than the current deal? Or other than negotiating? Did he give a clear picture of what will happen if his wish comes true and this deal isn't signed?
Lieu: We need to have a physical framework agreement to evaluate before we can discuss the best path forward. If it is a bad deal, I will not support it. Whether a framework agreement is insufficient or we fail to reach one altogether, the next step will likely involve ratcheting up the sanctions pressure that forced Iran to the negotiating table to begin with and standing firm on our red lines.