On January 19, Director of National Intelligence-designate Avril Haines reiterated President Biden’s pledge to reenter the 2015 nuclear deal but only if Iran first rolls back its violations of the agreement. “Frankly, we're a long ways from that,” she told the Senate Intelligence Committee during her confirmation hearing. In 2019, Iran began breaching its obligations in tit-for-tat responses to the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the deal in 2018 and the “maximum pressure campaign” that included hundreds of punitive economic sanctions. Iran should never “be allowed to get a nuclear weapon,” Haines told the committee. She added that the Biden administration should address Iran’s ballistic missiles and destabilizing activities in the Middle East in any future diplomacy with Iran. Haines was confirmed by a vote of 84 to 10 on January 20. The following are excerpts of the committee hearing.
On Iran’s nuclear program and future diplomacy
Senator Susan Collins (R-ME): “President-elect Biden has indicated his intention to rejoin the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. I would like to know whether you have any reservations about your strong support for the agreement and how the threat of the Iranians developing nuclear weapons fits in with your priorities?”
Haines: “Obviously, the president-elect has indicated that if Iran were to come back into compliance, that he would direct that we do so as well. And I think, frankly, we're a long ways from that. And I think there's going to be an opportunity to consult with Congress and with members like yourself on these issues as we look at that. But he's the president-elect has also indicated, and I agree with this, that in doing so, we have to also look at the ballistic missile issues that you've identified. And there are other obviously destabilizing activities that Iran engages in.
“If I am confirmed to be the director of national intelligence, my hope in my role, I think, would be to provide all of you with the best possible information about the status, for example, of Iran's program, about their activities, give you information that would allow you to make the best judgment under the circumstances for what is the appropriate act to be taken.”
Senator John Cornyn (R-TX): “I know you support the reentry of the United States into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Do you believe Iran should ever be allowed to get nuclear weapons?”
Haines: “No, sir. I don't believe that Iran should ever be allowed to get a nuclear weapon.”
On Iran’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA): “How will you approach the threat from Iran, especially in the wake of the killings of the IRGC commander [Gen. Qassem] Soleimani a year ago and the founder of Iran's nuclear program this year [Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed in November 2020]?”
Haines: “I absolutely agree that Iran is a threat and a destabilizing actor in the region. And I think this is an issue that we need to focus in on. From the intelligence community perspective, if I'm confirmed, what I would hope to do is provide the best, most accurate intelligence that we have on the threat being posed and allow policymakers, therefore, to have that information as they make decisions about what actions to pursue with respect to Iran in the future.”