The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S.Army General Martin Dempsey (R), along with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, (L), appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington July 29, 2015. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, distanced himself on Wednesday from the Obama administration’s frequent assertions that war with Iran will be inevitable if Congress rejects the nuclear agreement reached this month.
“At no time did that come up in our conversation or did I make that comment,” Dempsey said, at a hearing held by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“We have a range of options.”
Dempsey was answering a question from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who asked if the political paradigm cast by President Barack Obama and his administration had been based on a military assessment by the Joint Chiefs.
In his response, Dempsey noted that any military strike would constitute an act of war and that the United States retained options between this deal and reaching that point.
He added his belief that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name for the agreement, is the most “durable” option available to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Dempsey’s opening statement was brief. US military options against Iran’s nuclear program, he said, “have to be preserved into the future” as the agreement proceeds through implementation.
Secretary of State John Kerry, at the same hearing, said, “The president of the United States is not mandating war.”
But Kerry said that war would be the “inevitable consequence” of Tehran speeding up its nuclear program without the caps ensured by the agreement.
At the same briefing, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said that a military strike on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities would lead only to a temporary delay in its work, might drive its program underground, and would almost certainly result in an Iranian response.
But the US was continuously “improving” its military options against Iran, even as it plans to implement the agreement, Carter continued.
“I wouldn’t rule out that, in 10 years, Iran could progress to an ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile],” Carter added.
He, alongside Kerry, Dempsey, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, all expressed concern over Iran’s nonnuclear destructive activities throughout the Middle East.
But Lew said international banks that have frozen Iran’s assets would not likely consider themselves bound by a vote against the agreement in Congress.
Thus the funds may be accessible to Tehran regardless of how the US proceeds, he said.
Congress is in the middle of a 60-day period in which it can review, investigate, and then vote to approve or disapprove of the agreement.
Obama hosted House Democrats at the White House on Wednesday to discuss the vote, and to stress the importance of the deal in preventing Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
He argues it is the only viable option toward that end.
Iran is “a [nuclear] threshold state,” Moniz told the Senate panel. The stated policy of the US Congress is to prevent Iran from ever becoming a nuclear weapons-capable state.
This deal, Moniz continued, “walks them back from that threshold.”
Reacting to the agreement, Adm. (ret.) James Stavridis, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander now serving as dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University outside Boston, said he had several serious concerns.
“The top is the verification regime, which is starting to roughly resemble Swiss cheese,” he said. “You can drive a truck through some of the holes. I am very concerned about that.”
If Congress rejects the deal, the US “still can drive some degree of sanctions,” Stavridis said.
“There are cyber options to pursue,” he continued. “There are clandestine options to pursue. There are special forces options to pursue. I reject a notion that the choice is simply between this deal and going to war.”