WASHINGTON -- Speaking to the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference Sunday morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) threatened to cut funding to the United Nations, who he believes is alienating Israel in the international community and tolerating anti-Semitism in Europe. His promise was met with applause and a standing ovation by the nearly 15,000 AIPAC members in attendance.
Though it wasn’t mentioned explicitly, a majority of lawmakers in Congress are protesting the Palestinian Authority's recent ascension to the International Criminal Court, the body responsible for prosecuting war crimes. The court, which has retroactive jurisdiction back to June 13, 2014, in Palestinian territories, would be able to investigate possible violations of the laws of war during last summer’s Gaza-Israel conflict. Graham was one of 75 senators who signed a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry in January, urging for a cessation of U.S. funding to the Palestinian Authority.
Graham also expressed his skepticism about the ongoing nuclear negotiations between Iran and the six-country team known as the P5+1. While Graham conceded that history would frown upon a Republican lawmaker who voted against a “good deal,” he expressed doubts in the negotiators’ ability to bring about an agreement that would be acceptable to Congress.
“I don’t really have a lot of faith in the Russians to get us to the promised land,” Graham said, referring to Russian membership in the P5+1.
As for the Iranians, “they lie, they cheat, they aren't trustworthy, they kill Americans, they would destroy Israel tomorrow if they could,” claimed Graham.
According to Graham, a “bad deal” is one that would allow Iran to maintain any enrichment program that is monitored only by the United Nations. “How does it make you feel,” he asked the audience, “that the only thing between Israel and Iran with a nuclear weapon is the UN?”
As a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran is allowed to maintain a peaceful nuclear enrichment program, as long as it complies with safeguards to verify compliance, such as inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog.
Graham is one of four senators who introduced new legislation on Friday that would prohibit the Obama administration from lifting sanctions against Iran within two months of reaching an agreement, in order to give Congress time to review and debate the deal. Meanwhile, sanctions relief has been a key requirement for any nuclear deal from the Iranians, whose economy has been heavily strained by years of international sanctions and plummeting oil prices.
Though he claimed support for a peaceful nuclear agreement with Iran, Graham repeated his opposition to restoring Iran’s economy. “As we have negotiated with the Iranians, they have toppled four Arab capitals,” he said, referencing what he believed was Iranian support for the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and Shiite militias in Iraq.
“What do you think they would do with sanction relief? Build schools and hospitals?" Graham asked. "They would fund their military to wreak more unrest in the region.” What Graham failed to mention is that Washington and Tehran are tacitly fighting side by side in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State.
In an unusual talking point, the senator pointed to Israel as an example of why Iran’s nuclear program should be restricted. “It’s common knowledge that Israel has a nuclear arsenal, yet not one Arab nation has felt the need to get a nuclear weapon as a result,” said Graham. He explained that if Iran possessed nuclear weapons, the Middle East would erupt in a nuclear arms race.
Though Israel has never officially confirmed its nuclear weapons program, it is widely believed that it developed weapons in the 1960s. Because it is not party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, its program is not subject to international inspection.
In 2003, The Guardian learned that Saudi Arabia conducted a strategic review to determine if it was comfortable remaining under the nuclear umbrella protection of the U.S., or if it should develop nuclear weapon capabilities of its own. In addition to concern about Iran’s nuclear program, the Saudis expressed concern over Israel’s secret nuclear weapons and the lack of international pressure on Israel over their program.