Third Speech to a Joint Session of Congress
delivered 3 March 2015, Washington, D.C.
[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]
Speaker of the House, John Boehner, President Pro Tem, Senator Orrin Hatch, Senator Minority -- Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, House Minority, Leader Nancy Pelosi, and House Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy -- I also want to acknowledge Senator, Democratic Leader, Harry Reid -- Harry, itís good to see you back on your feet. I guess itís true what they say: "You canít keep a good man down."
My friends, Iím deeply humbled by the opportunity to speak for a third time before the most important legislative body in the world, the U.S. Congress. I want to thank you all for being here today. I know that my speech has been the subject of much controversy. I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political. That was never my intention.
I want to thank you, Democrats and Republicans, for your common support for Israel, year after year, decade after decade. I know that no matter on which side of the aisle you sit, you stand with Israel. The remarkable alliance between Israel and the United States has always been above politics. It must always remain above politics. Because America and Israel, we share a common destiny, the destiny of promised lands that cherish freedom and offer hope. Israel is grateful for the support of American -- of Americaís people and of Americaís presidents, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.
We appreciate all that President Obama has done for Israel. Now, some of that is widely known. Some of that is widely known, like strengthening security cooperation and intelligence sharing, opposing anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N. Some of what the President has done for Israel is less well known. I called him in 2010 when we had the [Mount] Carmel forest fire, and he immediately agreed to respond to my request for urgent aid. In 2011, we had our embassy in Cairo under siege, and again, he provided vital assistance at the crucial moment; or his support for more missile interceptors during our operation last summer when we took on Hamas terrorists.
In each of those moments, I called the President, and he was there. And some of what the President has done for Israel might never be known, because it touches on some of the most sensitive and strategic issues that arise between an American president and an Israeli prime minister. But I know it, and I will always be grateful to President Obama for that support.
And Israel is grateful to you, the American Congress, for your support, for supporting us in so many ways, especially in generous military assistance and missile defense, including Iron Dome. Last summer, millions of Israelis were protected from thousands of Hamas rockets because this capital dome helped build our Iron Dome. Thank you, America. Thank you for everything youíve done for Israel.
My friends, Iíve come here today because, as Prime Minister of Israel, I feel a profound obligation to speak to you about an issue that could well threaten the survival of my country and the future of my people: Iranís quest for nuclear weapons.
Weíre an ancient people. In our nearly 4000 years of history, many have tried repeatedly to destroy the Jewish people. Tomorrow night, on the Jewish holiday of Purim, weíll read the Book of Esther. Weíll read of a powerful Persian viceroy named Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jewish people some 2500 years ago. But a courageous Jewish woman, Queen Esther, exposed the plot and gave for the Jewish people the right to defend themselves against their enemies. The plot was foiled. Our people were saved.
Today the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian potentate to destroy us. Iranís Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei -- Iranís Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei spews the oldest hatred -- the oldest hatred of anti-Semitism with the newest technology. He tweets that Israel must be annihilated. He tweets. You know, in Iran, there isnít exactly free Internet. But he tweets in English that Israel must be destroyed.
For those who believe that Iran threatens the Jewish state, but not the Jewish people, listen to Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, Iranís chief terrorist proxy. He said: If all the Jews gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of chasing them down around the world.
But Iranís regime is not merely a Jewish problem, any more than the Nazi regime was merely a Jewish problem. The six million Jews murdered by the Nazis were but a fraction of the 60 million people killed in World War II. So, too, Iranís regime poses a grave threat, not only to Israel, but also to the peace of the entire world.
To understand just how dangerous Iran would be with nuclear weapons, we must fully understand the nature of the regime. The people of Iran are very talented people. Theyíre heirs to one of the worldís great civilizations. But in 1979, they were hijacked by religious zealots -- religious zealots who imposed on them immediately a dark and brutal dictatorship. That year, the zealots drafted a constitution, a new one for Iran. It directed the revolutionary guards not only to protect Iranís borders, but also to fulfill the ideological mission of jihad. The regimeís founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, exhorted his followers to "export our revolution throughout the" entire "world."1
Iím standing here in Washington, D.C. and the...difference is so stark. Americaís founding document promises life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Iranís founding document pledges death, tyranny, and the pursuit of jihad. And as states are collapsing across the Middle East, Iran is charging into the void to do just that. Iranís goons in Gaza, its lackeys in Lebanon, its revolutionary guards on the Golan Heights are clutching Israel with three tentacles of terror. Backed by Iran, Assad is slaughtering Syrians. Backed by Iran, Shiite militias are rampaging through Iraq. Backed by Iran, Houthis are seizing control of Yemen, threatening the strategic straits at the mouth of the Red Sea. Along with the Straits of Hormuz, that would give Iran a second choke -- choke-point on the worldís oil supply.
Just last week, near Hormuz, Iran carried out a military exercise blowing up a mock U.S. aircraft carrier. Thatís just last week -- while theyíre having nuclear talks with the United States. But unfortunately, for the last 36 years, Iranís attacks against the United States have -- have been anything but mock, and the targets have been all too real. Iran took dozens of Americans hostage in Tehran, murdered hundreds of American soldiers, Marines, in Beirut, and was responsible for killing and maiming thousands of American service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Beyond the Middle East, Iran attacks America and its allies through its global terror network. It blew up the Jewish community center and the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. It helped Al Qaida bomb U.S. embassies in Africa. It even attempted to assassinate the -- the Saudi ambassador, right here in Washington, D.C.
In the Middle East, Iran now dominates four Arab capitals: Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sana'a. And if Iranís aggression is left unchecked, more will surely follow. So at a time when many hope that Iran will join the community of nations, Iran is busy gobbling up the nations. We must all stand together to stop Iranís march of conquest, subjugation, and terror.
Now, two years ago we were told to give President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif a chance to bring change and moderation to Iran. Some change. Some moderation. Rouhaniís government hangs gays, persecutes Christians, jails journalists, and executes even more prisoners than before. Last year, the same Zarif who charms Western diplomats laid a wreath at the grave of Imad Mughniyeh. Imad Mughniyeh is the terrorist mastermind who spilled more American blood than any other terrorist besides Osama bin Laden. Iíd like to see someone ask him a question about that. Iranís regime is as radical as ever, its cries of ďDeath to America,Ē that same America that it calls the ďGreat Satan,Ē as loud as ever.
Now, this shouldnít be surprising, because the ideology of Iranís revolutionary regime is deeply rooted in militant Islam, and thatís why this regime will always be an enemy of America.
And donít be fooled: The battle between Iran and ISIS doesnít turn Iran into a friend of America. Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam. One calls itself the Islamic Republic. The other calls itself the Islamic State. Both want to impose a militant Islamic empire first on the region and then on the entire world. They just disagree among themselves who will be the ruler of that empire. In this deadly game of thrones, thereís no place for America or for Israel, no peace for Christians, Jews or Muslims who donít share the Islamist medieval creed, no rights for women, no freedom for anyone. So when it comes to Iran and ISIS: The enemy of your enemy is your enemy.
The difference is that ISIS is armed with butcher knives, captured weapons, and YouTube, whereas Iran could soon be armed with intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs. We must always remember -- Iíll say it one more time -- the greatest danger facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons. To defeat ISIS and let Iran get nuclear weapons would be to win the battle, but lose the war. We canít let that happen.
But that, my friends, is exactly what could happen, if the deal now being negotiated is accepted by Iran. That deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It would all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons, lots of them. Let me explain why: While the final deal has not yet been signed, certain elements of any potential deal are now a matter of public record. You donít need intelligence agencies and secret information to know this. You can Google it. Absent a dramatic change, we know for sure that any deal with -- with Iran will include two major concessions to Iran.
The first major concession would leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure, providing it with a short break-out time to the bomb. Break-out time is the time it takes to amass enough weapons-grade uranium or plutonium for a nuclear bomb. According to the deal, not a single nuclear facility would be demolished. Thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium would be left spinning. Thousands more would be temporarily disconnected, but not destroyed. Because Iranís nuclear program would be left largely intact, Iranís break-out time would be very short -- about a year by U.S. assessment, even shorter by Israelís. And if -- if Iranís work on advanced centrifuges, faster and faster centrifuges, is not stopped, that break-out time could still be shorter, a lot shorter.
True, certain restrictions would be imposed on Iranís nuclear program and Iranís adherence to those restrictions would be supervised by international inspectors. But hereís the problem. You see, inspectors document violations; they donít stop them. Inspectors knew when North Korea broke to the bomb, but that didnít stop anything. North Korea turned off the cameras, kicked out the inspectors. Within a few years, it got the bomb. Now, weíre warned that within five years North Korea could have an arsenal of 100 nuclear bombs. Like North Korea, Iran, too, has defied international inspectors. Itís done that on at least three separate occasions -- 2005, 2006, 2010. Like North Korea, Iran broke the locks, shut off the cameras.
Now, I know this is not going to come a shock -- as a shock to any of you, but Iran not only defies inspectors, it also plays a pretty good game of hide-and-cheat with them. The U.N.ís nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA, said again yesterday that Iran still refuses to come clean about its military nuclear program.2 Iran was also caught -- caught twice, not once, twice -- operating secret nuclear facilities in Natanz and Qom, facilities that inspectors didnít even know existed.
Right now, Iran could be hiding nuclear facilities that we donít know about, the U.S. and Israel. As the former head of inspections for the IAEA said in 2013, he said, ďIf thereís no undeclared installation today" in Iran, "it will be the first time in 20 years that [Iran] doesnít have one.Ē3 Iran has proven time and again that it cannot be trusted. And thatís why the first major concession is a source of grave concern. It leaves Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and relies on inspectors to prevent a breakout. That concession creates a real danger that Iran could get to the bomb by violating the deal.
But the second major concession creates an even greater danger that Iran could get to the bomb by keeping the deal, because virtually all the restrictions on Iranís nuclear program will automatically expire in about a decade. Now, a decade may seem like a long time in political life, but itís the blink of an eye in the life of a nation. Itís a blink of an eye in the life of our children. We all have a responsibility to consider what will happen when Iranís nuclear capabilities are virtually unrestricted and all the sanctions will have been lifted. Iran would then be free to -- to build a huge nuclear capacity that could produce many, many nuclear bombs.
Iranís Supreme Leader says that openly. He says, Iran plans to have 190,000 centrifuges, not 6,000 or even the 19,000 that Iran has today, but 10 times that amount -- 190,000 centrifuges enriching uranium.4 With this massive capacity, Iran could make the fuel for an entire nuclear arsenal and this in a matter of weeks, once it makes that decision.
My long-time friend, John Kerry, Secretary of State, confirmed last week that Iran could legitimately possess that massive centrifuge capacity when the deal expires. Now I want you to think about that: The former sponsor -- The foremost sponsor of global terrorism could be weeks away from having enough enriched uranium for an entire arsenal of nuclear weapons and this with full international legitimacy. And by the way, if Iranís Intercontinental Ballistic Missile program is not part of the deal -- and so far, Iran refuses to even put it on the negotiating table -- well, Iran could have the means to deliver that nuclear arsenal to the far-reach corners of the Earth, including to every part of the United States.
So you see, my friends, this deal has two major concessions: one, leaving Iran with a vast nuclear program; and two, lifting the restrictions on that program in about a decade. Thatís why this deal is so bad. It doesnít block Iranís path to the bomb; it paves Iranís path to the bomb.
So why would anyone make this deal? Because they hope that Iran will change for the better in the coming years, or they believe that the alternative to this deal is worse? Well, I disagree. I donít believe that Iranís radical regime will change for the better after this deal. This regime has been in power for 36 years, and its voracious appetite for aggression grows with each passing year. This deal would wet appetite -- would only wet Iranís appetite for more.
Would Iran be less aggressive when sanctions are removed and its economy is stronger? If Iran is gobbling up four countries right now while itís under sanctions, how many more countries will Iran devour when sanctions are lifted? Would Iran fund less terrorism when it has mountains of cash with which to fund more terrorism? Why should Iranís radical regime change for the better when it can enjoy the best of both worldís: aggression abroad, prosperity at home. This is a question that everyone asks in our region. Israelís neighbors -- Iranís neighbors know that Iran will become even more aggressive and sponsor even more terrorism when its economy is unshackled and itís been given a clear path to the bomb. And many of these neighbors say theyíll respond by racing to get nuclear weapons of their own.
So this deal wonít change Iran for the better; it will only change the Middle East for the worse. A deal thatís supposed to prevent nuclear proliferation would instead spark a nuclear arms race in the most dangerous part of the planet. This deal wonít be a farewell to arms. It would be a farewell to arms control. And the Middle East would soon be crisscrossed by nuclear tripwires. A region where small skirmishes can trigger big wars would turn into a nuclear tinderbox. If anyone thinks -- anyone thinks this deal kicks the can down the road, think again. When we get down that road, weíll face a much more dangerous Iran, a Middle East littered with nuclear bombs and a countdown to a potential nuclear nightmare.
Ladies and gentlemen, Iíve come here today to tell you we donít have to bet the security of the world on the hope that Iran will change for the better. We donít have to gamble with our future and with our childrenís future. We can insist that restrictions on Iranís nuclear program not be lifted for as long as Iran continues its aggression in the region and in the world. Before lifting those restrictions, the world should demand that Iran do three things:
If the world powers are not prepared to insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal is signed, at the very least they should insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal expires. If Iran changes its behavior, the restrictions would be lifted. If Iran doesnít change its behavior, the restrictions should not be lifted. If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country.
My friends, what about the argument that thereís no alternative to this deal, that Iranís nuclear know-how cannot be erased, that its nuclear program is so advanced that the best we can do is delay the inevitable, which is essentially what the proposed deal seeks to do?
Well, nuclear know-how without nuclear infrastructure doesnít get you very much. A racecar driver without a car canít drive. A pilot without a plan canít fly. Without thousands of centrifuges, tons of enriched uranium or heavy water facilities, Iran canít make nuclear weapons. Iranís nuclear program can be rolled back well-beyond the current proposal by insisting on a better deal and keeping up the pressure on a very vulnerable regime, especially given the recent collapse in the price of oil. Now, if Iran threatens to walk away from the table -- and this often happens in a Persian bazaar -- call their bluff. Theyíll be back, because they need the deal a lot more than you do. And by maintaining the pressure on Iran and on those who do business with Iran, you have the power to make them need it even more.
My friends, for over a year, weíve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well, this is a bad deal. Itís a very bad deal. Weíre better off without it. Now weíre being told that the only alternative to this bad deal is war. Thatís just not true. The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal -- a better deal that doesnít leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and such a short break-out time; a better deal that keeps the restrictions on Iranís nuclear program in place until Iranís aggression ends; a better deal that wonít give Iran an easy path to the bomb; a better deal that Israel and its neighbors may not like, but with which we could live, literally. And no country -- no country has a greater stake -- no country has a greater stake than Israel in a good deal that peacefully removes this threat.
Ladies and gentlemen, history has placed us at a fateful crossroads. We must now choose between two paths. One path leads to a bad deal that will at best curtail Iranís nuclear ambitions for a while, but it will inexorably lead to a nuclear-armed Iran whose unbridled aggression will inevitably lead to war. The second path, however difficult, could lead to a much better deal, that would prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, a nuclearized Middle East, and the horrific consequences of both to all of humanity. You donít have to read Robert Frost to know. You have to live life to know that the difficult path is usually the one less traveled, but it will make all the difference for the future of my country, the security of the Middle East and the peace of the world, the peace, we all desire.
My friends, standing up to Iran is not easy. Standing up to dark and murderous regimes never is. With us today is Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel. Elie, your life and work inspires to give meaning to the words, ďnever again.Ē And I wish I could promise you, Elie, that the lessons of history have been learned. I can only urge the leaders of the world not to repeat the mistakes of the past: not to sacrifice the future for the present; not to ignore aggression in the hopes of gaining an illusory peace.
But I can guarantee you this: The days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over. We are no longer scattered among the nations, powerless to defend ourselves. We've restored our sovereignty in our ancient home. And the soldier who -- soldiers who defend our home have boundless courage. For the first time in 100 generations, we, the Jewish people, can defend ourselves. This is why -- This is why, as Prime Minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing: Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.
But I know that Israel does not stand alone. I know that America stands with Israel. I know that you stand with Israel. You stand with Israel because you know that the story of Israel is not only the story of the Jewish people but of the human spirit that refuses again and again to succumb to historyís horrors.
Facing me right up there in the gallery, overlooking all of us in this august chamber is the image of Moses. Moses led our people from slavery to the gates of the Promised Land. And before the people of Israel entered the land of Israel, Moses gave us a message that has steeled our resolve for thousands of years. I leave you with his message today: Chizku veíimtzu, al tiru veíal teíartzu mípneihem. ďBe strong and resolute, neither fear nor dread them.Ē5
My friends, may Israel and America always stand together, strong and resolute.
May we neither fear nor dread the challenges ahead.
May we face the future with confidence, strength, and hope.
May God bless the State of Israel and may God bless the United States of America.
1 Ruhollah Khomeini cited in Hoffman, B. (1988). The contrasting ethical foundations of terrorism in the 1980s. The Rand Corporation.
2 Statement by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano on 2 March 2015 confirmed: "The Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement. However, the Agency is not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities." (Source: iaea.org)
4 "Statement by Ruhollah Khomeini on 7 July 2014: "Our officials say we need 190,000 SWU. Perhaps this is not a need this year or in two years or five years, but this is the country's absolute need." (Source: uk.reuters.com)
5 Quoted from the first part of Deuteronomy 31:6. The entire passage, a parting exhortation from Moses to the Israelites just prior to their entry into the Promised Land, reads as follows: ďBe strong and resolute, neither fear nor dread them, because G-d your Lord is the One who is going with you, and He will not fail you or forsake you."
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