WASHINGTON — Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), during a congressional hearing, argued with Secretary of State John Kerry about Iran’s influence over U.S. military efforts against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
The Florida senator, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, accused the Obama administration of restricting its role in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria to secure a nuclear deal with Iran.
Rubio is among the 47 senators who sent a letter directly to the Iranian government dismissing Obama’s authority to make a nuclear deal with Iran without congressional approval.
“I believe that much of our strategy with regards to ISIS is being driven by a desire not to upset Iran so they don’t walk away from the negotiating table on the deal that you are working on,” Rubio told Kerry during a Senate panel hearing aimed at discussing Obama’s proposal to fight ISIS. “Tell me why I am wrong.”
“Because the facts completely contradict that,” Kerry shot back. “But I’m not at liberty to discuss all of them here for a lot of different reasons.”
Kerry argued in defense of the Obama administration’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, adding that Iran does not have influence over U.S. policy to defeat ISIS.
”I think this has been a misread by a lot of people on the Hill, to be honest with you. There is no grand bargain being discussed here in the context of this negotiation. This is about nuclear-weapon potential. That’s it,” said Kerry. “It is really almost insulting that the presumption up here is that we are going to negotiate something that allows them to get a nuclear weapon.”
Iran wants “us to destroy ISIS. They want to destroy ISIS. ISIS is a threat to them. It is a threat to the region,” he added. “I think you are misreading it if you think there is not a mutual interest.”
Kerry acknowledged that Iran will not openly support U.S. military presence in the region.
Rubio told Kerry that nuclear negotiations with Iran have strained the trust between America and the Arab coalition against ISIS.
“Senator, that actually is flat wrong also, flat wrong,” Kerry said. “I just came back from the meeting in the Gulf in Riyadh… I met with all of the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] members, they all sat around the table and they all articulated their support for what we’re doing and they believe we are better off trying to prevent them from getting a bomb diplomatically.”
Kerry did admit that the U.S. is concerned about the growing influence of Iran in the Middle East. He also conceded that the U.S. Sunni allies are “nervous” about a nuclear deal with Iran.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted that the U.S. is concerned about “retribution and ethnic cleansing” in Iraq carried out by Iranian-backed Shiite militias after they are done fighting ISIS.
Nevertheless, Gen. Dempsey reiterated that Iran’s efforts against ISIS in Iraq are “positive.”
“I can’t imagine our bombing ISISL is unwelcome to them,” added Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.
Dempsey and Carter testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee alongside Kerry.
Iran has been supporting Iraq’s fight against ISIS.