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ICYMI: Sen. Cruz: Hezbollah is Greatest Threat Posed by Iran, North Korea’s Offer to Negotiate Denuclearization is Propaganda

Questions members of U.S. intelligence community at Senate Armed Services Committee hearing

March 7, 2018

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, this week participated in a hearing featuring the intelligence community’s assessment of worldwide threats. During his questioning, Sen. Cruz focused on the threat of nuclear and missile proliferation posed by both North Korea and Iran, the growing influence of Iran and its terrorist proxies throughout the region, and recent reports indicating North Korea’s desire for nuclear negotiations. 

Two witnesses testified at the hearing, including Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence and Lieutenant General Robert P. Ashley, Jr., Director of Defense Intelligence Agency. 

Watch the hearing in its entirety here. The full transcript is below.

Sen. Cruz: “Director Coats, in your written testimony you said quote, ‘Iran remains the most prominent state sponsor of terrorism, providing financial aid, advance weapons and tactics, and directions to militant and terrorist groups across the Middle East, and cultivating a network of operatives across the globe as a contingency to enable potential terrorist attacks. As part of the Obama nuclear deal, billions of dollars flowed into Iran, including $1.7 billion in unmarked cash delivered in pallets in the dark of night. In your judgment, has some of those billions of dollars been used to finance terrorist operations?”

Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats: “Likely.” 

Sen. Cruz: “What, in your judgment, is the greatest terrorist threat posed by Iran?”

Director Coats: “Iran has a lot of malign activities going on right now, but it seems to me that greatest current threat is its support for Hezbollah and Hezbollah’s positioning itself against Israel. That has turned into a hotspot, and Iran and has made this possible for Hezbollah to move into Syrian territory, very close to Israel, and arm themselves to the point where it could turn into a major conflict.”

Sen. Cruz: “Well and indeed, in recent weeks we saw for the first time ever an Iranian drone crossing into Israeli airspace, piloted by Iranians. What do you see as the consequences that Iran now feels strong enough, belligerent enough to be directly leading attacks on Israel with Iranian weapons by Iranians?”

Director Coats: “Well, it could have very serious conflicts. A lot of conflict could result from all of that. We know that Israel will not be able to tolerate that kind of threat directly on their border. And so, it’s a situation of significant concern.”

Sen. Cruz: “And is Iran continuing its research and development and testing of ICBM technology?” 

Director Coats: “They continue to develop and test their missiles. They claim that it’s not for that purpose, but there appears to be violations of U.N. security resolutions relative to what they are doing, and that is one of the malign activities that we are very concerned about.”

Sen. Cruz: “And the missiles they’re testing, they are not merely short-range missiles that might strike Israel, but they also include ICBMs that could reach the United States of America?”

Director Coats: “I’d like for General Ashley to discuss this.” 

Lieutenant General Robert Ashley, Jr.: “So what they have in their inventory are short-range ballistic and medium-range ballistic missiles. They do have a space launched vehicle, the Simorgh, which they have tested a couple of times. The reliability is not there. So, today, if you were to ask me, ‘Does Iran have ICBM capability?’ They do not. Is that aspirational? Yes. Could they take that space launch vehicle and start working that toward an ICBM capability? They could, but that is many years out.”

Sen. Cruz: “Do we see indications of North Korea sharing their ICBM research and development with Iran?”

Lieutenant General Ashley: “So, from an Iranian stand point, on their ballistic missile program, really, the seed corn of their missile ballistic program started back in the 80’s, in the Iran-Iraq War. It was the scud technology, and really where Iran wants to be now is self-sufficient. They want to have the ability not to depend on North Korea, like they did back in the 80’s, so they are self-sufficient in terms of how they are developing their program.”

Sen. Cruz: “Let’s shift for a minute to North Korea. In January 2018, Kim Jong-un publically called for ‘contact, travel, and cooperation between North and South Korea.’ And then, yesterday, Kim Jong-un hosted a 10-member delegation of South Korea officials in Pyeongyang, and according to President Moon’s national security advisor who led the delegation, North Korea signaled a ‘clear intent to pursue denuclearization and is willing to hold talks with the U.S.’ Director Coats, do we have any reason to believe that Kim Jong-un would be willing to give up nuclear weapons?”

Director Coats: “He has repeatedly stated that he would not give that up, he sees that existential to his regime’s survival and to his own survival. I’ve – we have seen nothing to indicate otherwise, that he would be willing to give up those weapons.”

Sen. Cruz: “So what do you make of these statements to the contrary? Is this simply propaganda? What is your assessment of it?” 

Director Coats: “I think it is too early to make a clear assessment. We need to hear from our interlocutors who will be coming here, as well as the South Koreans, to discuss what they have discussed. I spoke earlier about my history here of watching this movie a couple of times before, with both Republican and Democrat administrations, the frustration of getting into talks with North Korea and not succeeding, buying them time to do what they want to do. So, I have very, very low confidence in what their intent might be – if their intent is for denuclearizing, we have seen no evidence to that point – to that decision.”

Sen. Cruz: “General do you have a view point on this question?”

Lieutenant General Ashley: “I agree with the Director. Everything that we have seen leads us down a path that -- really, the preservation of the regime from any kind of external threat is central to that weapons program. And the lessons he’s taken from the likes of Gadhafi that have given up programs, puts him at risk. It was surprising to see that in the paper this morning and we will see where the talks go.” 

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