TOPICS > Nation

Iran’s Missile Launch Provides Test for Obama, McCain

July 9, 2008 at 6:10 PM EDT
Loading the player...
A day after Iran vowed to retaliate against Israel and U.S. interests if Tehran were attacked, the country test-fired nine missiles -- posing a policy test for the presidential hopefuls. Campaign advisers mull the issue.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

MARGARET WARNER: Today’s missile test came with a blunt warning from a top Iranian general: Tehran has the capacity to retaliate against any attack, from the U.S. or Israel.

GEN. HOSSEIN SALAMI, Commander, Revolutionary Guard Air Force (through translator): We want to tell the world that those who conduct their foreign policy by using the language of threat against Iran have to know that our finger is always on the trigger.

MARGARET WARNER: Today’s missile tests by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard come on the heels of a large Israeli military exercise. It demonstrated that Israeli bombers can reach Iran’s controversial nuclear facilities. The Israeli exercise fueled speculation in Washington that Israel may be planning a pre-emptive strike.

Tehran said one of the missiles tested today, the Shahab-3, has a range of more than 1,200 miles, putting Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and American bases and troops in the region well within range. So are the vital oil shipping lanes of the Strait of Hormuz. World oil prices spiked on the news.

The U.S. presidential candidates responded swiftly to the reports. Democrat Barack Obama appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: Instead of engaging in over-the-top rhetoric, what we should be doing is gathering our allies together in a serious effort to apply sanctions to Iran and encourage them to change their behavior.

Iran is a grave threat. We have to make sure that we are working with our allies to apply tightening pressure economically on Iran, at the same time as we start engaging in the kind of direct diplomacy that can lead them to standing down on issues like nuclear weapons.

MARGARET WARNER: Republican John McCain issued a statement saying the tests showed the need for a missile defense shield in Europe. And at a campaign event, he was asked about what role diplomacy should play in checking Iran.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: There has been intense negotiations and diplomacy, and there continues to be a role for it. But history shows us that when nations are embarked on paths that can jeopardize the security of the region and the world, then other action besides diplomacy has to be contemplated and taken. And that’s why meaningful and impactful sanctions are called for at this time.

MARGARET WARNER: The European Union and other major powers offered Iran a revised package of incentives last month, if Tehran will abandon its uranium enrichment program.

Iranian officials have sent mixed signals in response.

And for more, we turn to the senior foreign policy advisers to both presidential campaigns: Richard Danzig, former Navy secretary, for Barack Obama; and for John McCain, Randy Scheunemann, a national security adviser for several Republican senators, he joins us from campaign headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.

Welcome, gentlemen, to you both.

McCain, Obama's approaches to Iran

Richard Danzig
Obama Foreign Policy Adviser
[T]he first thing we ought to do is condemn this Iranian test... But there also is utility from opening up other lines of communication between the United States and Iran, just as we've had ... for example, with North Korea and with Libya.

MARGARET WARNER: Randy Scheunemann, if Senator McCain were president today, how would he respond to today's missile test?

RANDY SCHEUNEMANN, McCain Campaign Adviser: Well, I think the first thing he would do is sit down with our European allies that have been working very hard in multilateral diplomacy and talk about how to increase the sanctions, very serious sanctions -- financial, diplomatic and political -- on Iran.

Senator McCain has had those discussions with President Sarkozy of France, with Prime Minister Brown of the United Kingdom. They have engaged in more serious sanctions recently, and they have indicated a willingness to engage in more meaningful sanctions.

And I think that's the first thing Senator McCain would do, is begin even more effective multilateral diplomacy.

MARGARET WARNER: And, Richard Danzig, same question to you. If Senator Obama were president, how different would his approach be?

RICHARD DANZIG, Former Secretary of the Navy: Well, I certainly agree that that is the first thing we ought to do.

In fact, the first thing we ought to do is condemn this Iranian test. It inflames the region and is a bad thing. And we definitely need to consult with our European allies and increase sanctions.

Sanctions have been focused principally on people involved with the Iranian nuclear and missile programs. We have a lot of opportunities by pressing the Iranians, with respect to the visas and other kinds of economic interaction that people have elsewhere in Iran with the world.

But there also is utility from opening up other lines of communication between the United States and Iran, just as we've had other lines of communication, for example, with North Korea and with Libya and moved them away from positions that are very bad.

MARGARET WARNER: So, in other words, direct U.S.-Iranian talks, as Senator Obama has advocated?

RICHARD DANZIG: Yes, yes, absolutely. And, by the way, as used to exist for this administration before the invasion of Iraq, when they were productive, but then the administration stopped, and we had the turn that we see now towards more missilery and nuclear weapons.

Diplomacy remains divisive issue

Randy Scheunemann
McCain Foreign Policy Adviser
Sen. Obama is proposing unilateral concessions to the Iranian regime, breaking a multilateral consensus that has led to a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions and very much a united transatlantic front with our key allies in Europe.

MARGARET WARNER: Randy Scheunemann, that does seem to be one of the key differences between the two candidates on dealing with Iran, this whole question of direct U.S.-Iranian talks without pre-conditions. Now, Senator McCain does not support that. Why not?

RANDY SCHEUNEMANN: He doesn't support it because he believes in a multilateral approach. Senator Obama is proposing unilateral concessions to the Iranian regime, breaking a multilateral consensus that has led to a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions and very much a united transatlantic front with our key allies in Europe, imposing a direct choice to the Iranian regime.

A package of incentives was put on the table last month. It is sweeping; it is generous. And I think Senator Obama needs to explain, if he wants to make unilateral concessions and not ask the Iranians to suspend enrichment, what else is he willing to give beyond the package that has the support of the current Bush administration, as well as our key allies, as well as other Security Council members, China and Russia?

MARGARET WARNER: OK, and just briefly to understand what you're saying about -- you're accusing Senator Obama of wanting to offer unilateral concessions. You're talking about, what, dropping the precondition, as we've just discussed, that Iran agree to abandon its uranium enrichment.

RANDY SCHEUNEMANN: That's exactly what Senator Obama has said. He has said for months that he would engage in unconditional meetings with leaders like President Ahmadinejad. That is a unilateral approach.

There's not a single European government that has expressed support for that approach. And many, according to news reports, are gravely concerned about breaking the multilateral consensus in pursuit of unilateral cowboy summitry.

MARGARET WARNER: So, Mr. Danzig, would that be a big unilateral concession to make?

RICHARD DANZIG: Absolutely not. And it's not a concession in a meaningful sense.

I think the attitude that the Bush administration has had, which Senator McCain continues, is that negotiations should be somehow or another, or discussions, a reward, and that they should require, in effect, a pre-emptive surrender by the participants on the other side.

That's not rational. It doesn't work. And the fact that it doesn't work is shown by the fact the administration and the world pursued this policy for the period from 2003 on. And what we've seen is that, during this time, the Iranians have moved to ever more aggressive policies, 3,800 centrifuges, nuclear weaponry, missilery, use of Hezbollah, and so forth.

This is a very bad situation, and we can change it. In 2001 and 2002, this administration talked with Iran, and then it stopped. So it was appropriate then, we ought to see that it was more productive at that time when, for example, we worked with them over Afghanistan than the policies we're now pursuing.

Effects of an Israeli strike

Randy Scheunemann
McCain Foreign Policy Adviser
What Senator McCain has said repeatedly is that there's much more we can and must do on multilateral sanctions. And he's also said that we need to maintain our support for effective missile defense in Europe with Poland and the Czech Republic.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you both about some of the atmospherics around this. And the Iranians made it pretty clear they were responding in part to what they saw as saber-rattling on Israel's part.

Would a pre-emptive strike by Israel -- and I'll start with you, Randy Scheunemann -- in your view, or the senator's view, be helpful or harmful to this broader effort that we're talking about to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions?

RANDY SCHEUNEMANN: First, I'm not going to comment on hypothetical military strikes by Israel or any other country. What Senator McCain has said repeatedly is that there's much more we can and must do on multilateral sanctions.

And he's also said that we need to maintain our support for effective missile defense in Europe with Poland and the Czech Republic. I'm not sure where Senator Obama is on that issue, but that is a missile defense program that is designed to defend Europe against exactly the kinds of test capabilities that the Iranians tried to test today and are trying to develop for the future.

MARGARET WARNER: What's your answer on the Israel question?

RICHARD DANZIG: On the Israel question, it's clear that it's not useful to talk, as Randy emphasizes, about pre-emptive strikes and the kind of inflammation of the situation that the talk brings, not to mention the strike itself would bring. There are other options and possibilities.

What's striking, though, is that Senator McCain's view is that the other options are just one thing. It's to use the existing so-called five-plus-one talks, where five nations act and the United States does not act in direct participation in the talks, and other means of diplomacy, not only sanctions, but also potentially incentives, ability to say to the Iranians, "There's a place for you in the world order. You have to make a choice."

And to come forward with a positive program, as well as a strengthened sanctions program, and to do it in a context which says, "We're not afraid to talk to you. We talk to you about Iraq now. The Bush administration has changed its position on that as a result of the urging of Iraqis. We talk to you about issues associated with the region. Let's talk about these things."

MARGARET WARNER: Randy Scheunemann?

RANDY SCHEUNEMANN: I'm not sure that Richard or the Obama campaign is actually aware of what's in the incentive package. The package has a very, very generous program, including assistance in building light water reactors, legally binding guarantees for the fuel supply, normalization of trade and economic relations, increased investment support in the environment, agricultural and civil aviation sectors, membership in the WTO.

I have no idea what the Obama campaign would be willing to put on the table in addition to that, but that's what's on the table right now in a document signed by, among others, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The Iranians have been presented with a choice. And instead what Senator Obama seems to adhere to is an impetuous desire to engage in unilateral summitry as if somehow that will magically resolve the situation.

Iran's threat to stability

Richard Danzig
Obama Foreign Policy Adviser
The Iranians above all need some sense that there is a place for them in the world system and some sense of recognition. A refusal to talk with them doesn't help. It's never helped historically; it doesn't help in this context.

Threat of nuclear weapons, regional war

MARGARET WARNER: Can I ask one final question very briefly from you both? And, Mr. Danzig, I'll begin with you.

I think what concerns most Americans as they look forward to the election is, which of these men might be more or less likely to lead us into a war with Iran or more or less likely to let Iran -- or I shouldn't say let, but be on the scene when Iran develops a nuclear weapon?

Which, in Senator Obama's view, is the greater threat to U.S. interests, that is, Iran getting a nuclear weapon or the kind of regional conflagration that a military reaction could ignite?

RICHARD DANZIG: Well, as to which of the men is more likely to put us in a position of jeopardy, I think Senator Obama much better, in terms of the position of safety.

The Iranians above all need some sense that there is a place for them in the world system and some sense of recognition. A refusal to talk with them doesn't help. It's never helped historically; it doesn't help in this context.

You can couple it -- Senator Obama has a bill of forcing divestiture from investments with regard to Iran. You can couple it with strong sanctions and give them a carrots-and-sticks, either-or choice, but you can't, I think, walk away from it and say, "Well, we'll have negotiations by others."

MARGARET WARNER: And, Mr. Scheunemann, to you?

RANDY SCHEUNEMANN: Senator Obama said an interesting thing this morning. He said, "We need to avoid provocations with Iran." I'm not sure what he meant by that.

But Senator McCain has been very clear: The danger posed by the Iranian regime having nuclear weapons would be catastrophic for our interests in the region. It would trigger a nuclear arms race. It would pose an existential threat to the state of Israel.

And Senator McCain has been very clear we can impose sufficient sanctions and offer sufficient incentives to prevent the Iranian regime from acquiring nuclear weapons.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Gentlemen, I'm sorry we have to leave it there. Thank you both.

RICHARD DANZIG: Thank you.