Rex Tillerson on Iran

On January 11, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on his nomination to be secretary of state in the Donald Trump administration. He said Iran poses a great threat to the world because of its “refusal to conform to international norms.” If confirmed, Tillerson said that he would conduct a “full review” of the nuclear deal and begin considering next steps. “And what comes at the end of this agreement must be a mechanism that does in fact deny Iran the ability to develop a nuclear weapon and that means, no uranium enrichment in Iran, no nuclear materials stored in Iran,” he said.

In one instance, Tillerson corrected a comment. He initially said that the agreement does not prevent Iran from purchasing a nuclear weapon. After a break, however, he confirmed that he misspoke and acknowledged Iran’s commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Tillerson was also asked about a report that an Exxon subsidiary, during his tenure, did business with Iran, bypassing U.S. Sanctions. He said that he did not have any memory of the situation. The following are his excerpted remarks on Iran.


Rex Tillerson

“Adversaries like Iran and North Korea pose great threats to the world because of their refusal to conform to international norms.”

“We cannot afford to ignore violations of international accords as we have done with Iran.”

“The demise of ISIS will also allow us to increase our attention on other agents of radical Islam like al Qaeda, the Muslim brotherhood and certain elements within Iran. But defeat will not occur on the battlefield alone. We must win the war of ideas.”  

“Russia, Syria, Turkey and Iran are dictating the terms of how things are going to play out in Syria today, absent our participation. So I think it's a reengagement with our traditional allies, sharing with them where we believe we have to now go in Syria.”

“I do think that we have to clear-eyed about the threat Iran poses today. And ensure that we have taken all steps appropriate through all mechanisms available to contain that threat and to limit their ability to grow that threat. In particular, not just on the nuclear - acquired a nuclear weapon, but more importantly, their widespread support of terrorism around the world. We have to disrupt that.”  

“With respect to the recent agreement to limit Iran's ability to advance or make progress towards development of nuclear weapons, if confirmed, my recommendation is, and I think this is consistent with the President Elect is now, is to do a full review of that agreement as well as any number of side agreements that I understand are part of that agreement. 

“Examine what -- you know, whether Iran and our ability to verify whether Iran is meeting its obligations under the agreement and insure that we are enforcing all of the mechanisms available that hold them to that agreement. No one disagrees with the ultimate objective that Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon. The current agreement does freeze their ability to progress but it does not ultimately deny them the ability to have a nu-clear weapon. My understanding is the current agreement for instance does not deny them the ability to purchase a nuclear weapon. It just means, it just denies them the ability to develop one. So I think there are additional areas that have to be considered. And most importantly if we choose to use this agreement as a way to provide an opportunity to discuss what comes next, because the real important question is what comes at the end of this agreement? 

“And what comes at the end of this agreement must be a mechanism that does in fact deny Iran the ability to develop a nuclear weapon and that means, no uranium enrichment in Iran, no nuclear materials stored in Iran.  

“The other side of that is what does Iran get would be through working with partners would be to provide Iran the access, the means, to peaceful uses of nuclear materials. Nuclear power, medical applications and industrial applications, but that would be done under a very controlled process working with other partners to do that. 

“Whether Iran is prepared to chart a pathway that looks like that, we'll only know once we engage in discussions.”

“Today, because of Iran and the threat that Iran poses, we now find that Israel, the U.S. and the Arab neighbors in the region all share the same enemy. And this give us an opportunity to find -- to discuss things that previous I think could not have been discussed.”

“As to the nuclear agreement itself, I do look forward, if confirmed, to taking a comprehensive look at that, along with the side agreements, to see what are all the elements available to us to enforce, stay informed on their activities and are they complying with all the inspection requirements and confirming that they're meeting the agreement.”  

“So my intention is to use the elements of this agreement that may be helpful to us in addressing the what comes next when this agreement is over or what replaces it, which has to be we have once and for all blocked Iran's path to a nuclear weapon because they're agreed that they're no longer going to pursue one because they have no reason to, because we've behaviors or because we have mechanisms in place that are going to prevent them from pursuing that.  

“That is -- that will be a difficult negotiation because it is in the context of their continued sponsorship of nuclear terrorism around the world. And we can't just work this and turn a blind eye to that, and it is a complicated discussion, but I think we do have to take that approach with them that we're not going to do a one-off deal with you and act like all this stuff over here is not happening. It has to be looked at in full view and we just have to be honest and acknowledge it.”

“Senator, if I could correct for the record, I misspoke. And during the break, I went and checked my source for that and confirmed that I misspoke, and that in fact, their commitment to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty -- the language that was in there about "acquire" some people quibble over, but -- but their commitment to the NPT was clear and I misspoke in that regard.”