WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today participated in a hearing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the Trump Administration’s FY 2020 State Department Budget Request.
There, Sen. Cruz urged the State Department to stop approving ongoing programs that allow Iran to build up its nuclear program, which Iran has used as cover to pursue nuclear weapons.
“If you look to the extraordinary results that the Israeli raid seized from Iran, that debunked what we were told by the Obama administration and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and made clear that there were entire parts of Iran’s civilian nuclear program that were built in order to create nuclear weapons, and that it was little more than a sham.” said Sen. Cruz, “Let me urge you and urge the Department unequivocally not to grant the nuclear wavers and not to grant the oil waivers. I think maximum pressure should mean maximum pressure. You have been a strong voice for that and let me encourage you to continue that strong position defending our national security.”
Sen. Cruz also talked about the need to halt waivers that allow Iran to sell oil, recent designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, Russia’s security cooperation in Latin America, and the threat of Chinese espionage and companies like Huawei pose to U.S. intelligence networks.
Sen. Cruz: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Secretary, welcome. Thank you for your service. I want to talk a little bit about Iran. Let me start out by thanking you and the administration for designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
“As you know, that’s a step I have long advocated. I’ve introduced legislation to move it forward. I wanted to ask you to explain to this committee and to the American people why designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization is, number one, justified on the merits, and number two, what the consequences of that designation are specifically for financial institutions or corporations doing business with IRGC affiliated entities?”
Sec. Pompeo: “Senator, by its very name, people say the IRGC and sometimes they get the “I” and the “R” wrong. This is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. I think that’s important—they named themselves appropriately. As a terrorist organization, it’s killed over 600 Americans—the number is probably far higher than that. They continue to engage in terror around the world, including assassination campaigns in Europe, in the West. This was a kind of easy decision; we’re reflecting reality. So, I’m happy that we were able to announce that decision yesterday.
“Second, with respect to its impact. The IRGC has another component, which is what I’ll call the kleptocracy component. It runs a significant piece of the Iranian economy. The numbers vary, but I’ve seen numbers as high as 20% or 25% of the Iranian economy has resources—wealth—that transfer to the IRGC itself. If you’re the general counsel of an Asian bank or a European bank, your world changed when that designation came out yesterday. If you’re thinking about doing business or providing material support in any way to any company that might be connected to the IRGC, this sanction will cause you not to do that. From our goal, what that will do is it will deny them the resources to continue their terror campaign around the world.”
Sen. Cruz: “Thank you for that answer. You and I worked together as there was an interagency debate within the administration about whether the president should pull out of the Iran Nuclear Deal. I think the president made unquestioningly the right decision. As you know, there were significant voices within the State Department that resisted that step, and that I believe continue to resist that step. I want to talk to you about two different aspects of implementing that decision to pull out of the Iran deal, namely the nuclear waivers and the oil waivers.
“On the nuclear waivers, as you know, we have waivers that allow Iran to continue with supposedly, non-military nuclear research. If you look to the extraordinary results that the Israeli raid seized from Iran, that debunked what we were told by the Obama administration and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and made clear that there were entire parts of Iran’s civilian nuclear program that were built in order to create nuclear weapons, and that it was little more than a sham. I want to ask your view on should we continue to grant nuclear waivers? As I understand, they’re up for renewal next month. Should we continue to grant nuclear waivers given the rather significant evidence that doing so could further Iran acquiring nuclear weapons?”
Sec. Pompeo: “Senator, I think this administration—I think it’s hard to challenge the fact that we have been tough with respect to sanctions on Iran, with respect to particular waiver decisions—both these and the crude oil ones, I don’t have any announcements to make today. We need to make sure that they wind through the process appropriately.
“Your point about different opinions inside the State Department? We’ve got 90,000 employees, probably have that many opinions. Make no mistake about it; we will stare closely at this. On the nonproliferation waivers, I’d love to talk to you in a classified setting about it—it’s complicated. But suffice it to say President Trump—I can assure the American people; I can assure the world—President Trump will continue to ratchet up the pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran such that their behavior will change.”
Sen. Cruz: “Well, there will be a critical decision point next month also concerning the oil waivers. It’s been publicly reported that there is currently interagency dispute between the State Department and the Energy Department about whether to grant those waivers again. Right now, Iran is producing roughly 1.2 million barrels of oil a day that’s generating billions of dollars that is funding the Ayatollah and—I believe—endangering our security. What are your views on whether allowing Iran to continue to produce 1.2 million barrels of oil a day and sell it on the world market? Is that in our national interest?”
Sec. Pompeo: “I think the State Department—me—I think we’ve been clear about our objective of getting Iran to zero just as quickly as we possibly can. And we will continue to do that.”
Sen. Cruz: “Well, let me urge you and urge the Department unequivocally not to grant the nuclear wavers and not to grant the oil waivers. I think maximum pressure should mean maximum pressure. You have been a strong voice for that and let me encourage you to continue that strong position defending our national security.”
Sen. Cruz: “Mr. Secretary, let’s talk a bit about Russia and Latin America. Last year, on the Senate Armed Services Committee, I passed bipartisan legislation adopted as part of the NDAA that required the Defense Intelligence Agency to report on Russia’s security cooperation with Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. The report that the administration submitted is extensive and it’s worrying. It shows that Russia is building a security infrastructure in our back yard with Cuba, with Venezuela, and with Nicaragua.
“Cuba supports Russian naval operations in exchange for credit and military equipment. In 2018 alone, Russia and Cuba signed a $50 million loan agreement for the purchase of Russian military hardware and replacement parts. In Nicaragua, President Ortega is committed to strengthening security and defense agreements with Russia, and over the past year, hundreds of Russian troops participated in training with the Nicaraguan Army. The strongest security partnership however, that Russia has within Latin America, is that of Venezuela. Russia is the regime’s largest arms supplier, with upwards of $11 billion in arms sales over the past two decades. Just last year, Russia deployed two Tu-160 BLACKJACK nuclear-capable bombers to the Venezuelan military, along with 10 attack helicopters the previous year.
“Mr. Secretary, what is your assessment of Russia’s strategic objective in its major investments in Latin America?”
Sec. Pompeo: “Senator, I think that your factual recitations are almost spot on – correct in terms of the analysis that I’ve seen as well. So, this threat is real. Look, they are here in Latin America because they want both proximity – so some of what they do in Cuba, some of what they do in Venezuela gives them access to American southeast and allows them to operate their ships, their vessels, their aircraft, the two bombers you just described, so it gives them logistical hubs. It also gives them space in which to conduct cyber operations – that is they have access to networks that they can’t access from other places in the world. There is a very real reason for their physical presence in these places. That is why it is so important that the Venezuelan people are successful in overthrowing Maduro, getting their democracy back, and a government that will understand it’s in their best interest to have the rule of law and not operate with Cuban and Russian thugs inside of their country.”
Sen. Cruz: “Maduro’s regime in Venezuela is being in very significant ways propped up by both Russia and Cuba, and indeed Cuban thugs play an integral part in keeping Maduro in power, even though his regime is illegitimate. In my view, the pivotal piece for whether we have a legitimately elected government in Venezuela is going to be whether the roughly 3,000 generals in the Venezuela military chose to remain with an illegitimate dictator that is Maduro, or instead stand with the legitimate and constitutional leader, Juan Guaidó.
“From the U.S. perspective, I think we should see a combination of sticks and carrots for those military leaders. In other words, each of those generals should know if they stand with Maduro against the Venezuelan people, they face sanctions directly; their families face sanctions directly. That will be a decision to be on the wrong side of history that will haunt them for decades, for their entire lifetime. On the other hand, if they make the decision to stand with the people of Venezuela, and with a constitutional government, that will be a decision that will benefit them.
“What are your views on both the carrots and sticks that we can be using, we should be using, and what more can we do?”
Sec. Pompeo: “Senator, I agree with you. We have done each of those. You should know that Special Representative Abrams and the Chargé Jimmy Story both have lots of traffic from the Venezuelan generals looking to see what the bid offer spread is. There are many conversations taking place. It’s quite interesting from our side to see, we don’t think they’re telling their buddies that they’re having conversations with the Americans about the fact that they’re trying to figure out if they can get a passport and a free home some place. So, we are confident that this combination of making clear to them – look, it depends on exactly where they sit in the command and the actions taken. But there is a set of leaders there that have been part of the Maduro regime, but if they come to the light, if they come to the right side of Venezuela history, we’re happy not to take any action against them, we’re happy to support them continuing to exist inside of Venezuela successfully. But those who don’t – those who don’t, we will hold them accountable when the day of reckoning comes, and Maduro leaves, and the Venezuelans get the democracy they deserve.”
Sen. Cruz: “Good. Final question. Shifting to another part of the world, China. If you look at Huawei, it is troubling to see our allies and partners, including governments within the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence community, consider partnering with Huawei for 5G infrastructure. That raises serious national security concerns for us and our allies.
“How are your efforts going to make that case to our allies, and what response are you getting?”
Sec. Pompeo: “We are making real progress. I would have hoped we would get better responses more quickly, but we’ve continued to make clear the risks. Two risks – they have their own risks. Risks to their systems, risks to the privacy of their own people. But the second risk is, and certainly if you’re a Five Eyes partner, but even if your outside of Five Eyes, inside of Europe, we still share a great deal of intelligence with you, or co-located, or work alongside you. We’ve made very clear to them: you jeopardize that, we may have to not be able to be there with a DOD system, we may have to not be there with a State Department system, because we need to protect our information. We’ve made clear moving down that path presents at least two very significant risks and we’ve urged them to make a decision that stays away from this technology. There are other alternatives that will deliver them better security and better relationships.”