United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Biden, Ryan Debate on Iran Crisis

            On October 11, Vice President Joe Biden and Republican candidate Paul Ryan quarreled over how to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. During the vice presidential debate, Ryan charged that President Barack Obama’s administration is not doing enough to stop the nuclear program. But Biden asserted that U.S.-led sanctions are “the most crippling sanctions” ever imposed on a country and that Tehran is “a good way away” from building a nuclear weapon. The following are excerpts from the candidates’ comments on Iran.

Vice President Joe Biden

            “With regard to the ability of the United States to take action militarily, it is -- it is not in my purview to talk about classified information. But we feel quite confident we could deal a serious blow to the Iranians… the Israelis and the United States, our military and intelligence communities are absolutely the same exact place in terms of how close the Iranians are to getting a nuclear weapon. They are a good way away. There is no difference between our view and theirs.
            “When my friend talks about fissile material, they have to take this highly enriched uranium, get it from 20 percent up, then they have to be able to have something to put it in. There is no weapon that the Iranians have at this point. Both the Israelis and we know -- we'll know if they start the process of building a weapon… what more can the president do, stand before the United Nations, tell the whole world, directly communicate to the ayatollah, we will not let them acquire a nuclear weapon, period, unless he's talking about going to war…
            The ayatollah sees his economy being crippled. The ayatollah sees that there are 50 percent fewer exports of oil. He sees the currency going into the tank. He sees the economy going into freefall. And he sees the world for the first time totally united in opposition to him getting a nuclear weapon…
            “War should always be the absolute last resort. That's why these crippling sanctions, which Bibi Netanyahu says we should continue, which -- if I'm not mistaken -- Governor Romney says we -- we should continue. I may be mistaken. He changes his mind so often, I could be wrong. But the fact of the matter is, he says they're working. And the fact is that they are being crippled by them. And we've made it clear, big nations can't bluff. This president doesn't bluff.”
Vice Presidential Candidate Representative Paul Ryan

            “We cannot allow Iran to gain a nuclear weapons capability. Now, let's take a look at where we've gone -- come from. When Barack Obama was elected, they had enough fissile material -- nuclear material to make one bomb. Now they have enough for five. They're racing toward a nuclear weapon. They're four years closer toward a nuclear weapons capability.
            “Mitt Romney proposed these sanctions in 2007. In Congress, I've been fighting for these sanctions since 2009. The administration was blocking us every step of the way. Only because we had strong bipartisan support for these tough sanctions were we able to overrule their objections and put them in spite of the administration.
            “Imagine what would have happened if we had these sanctions in place earlier. You think Iran's not brazen? Look at what they're doing. They're stepping up their terrorist attacks. They tried a terrorist attack in the United States last year when they tried to blow up the Saudi ambassador at a restaurant in Washington, D.C…
            “When this administration says that all options are on the table, they send out senior administration officials that send all these mixed signals. And so, in order to solve this peacefully -- which is everybody's goal -- you have to have the ayatollahs change their minds…
            “Let's look at this from the view of the ayatollahs. What do they see? They see this administration trying to water down sanctions in Congress for over two years. They're moving faster toward a nuclear weapon. They're spinning the centrifuges faster…They see, when we say that these options are on the table, the secretary of defense walked them back. They are not changing their mind…
            “When we see the kind of equivocation that took place because this administration wanted a precondition policy, so when the Green Revolution started up, they were silent for nine days…when they [Iran]see us putting daylight between ourselves and our allies in Israel, that gives them encouragement…
            “A nuclear-armed Iran which triggers a nuclear arms race in the Middle East [is the worst possible outcome]. This [Iran] is the world's largest sponsor of -- of terrorism. They've dedicated themselves to wiping an entire country off the map. They call us the Great Satan. And if they get nuclear weapons, other people in the neighborhood will pursue their nuclear weapons, as well.”
Click here to watch the Iran portion of the debate.

Click here for a full transcript of the debate.


Connect With Us

Our Partners

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Logo