Menendez: We Need To Avoid An "Iraq Weapons Of Mass Destruction Moment" With Iran

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Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN Thursday morning that the Trump administration is "the most opaque administration I’ve ever dealt with over four presidencies" and demands an intelligence briefing on the administration's latest claims about Iranian military activity in the Persian Gulf.

Asked if he trusts the Trump administration's claims, Menendez said: "I will be better poised to give you an answer to that when we get hopefully all senators briefing by what I hope is both the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and our intelligence community to assess the intelligence and to test its veracity."





"What we do not need is another Iraq 'weapons of mass destruction' moment that led us into one of the worst engagements we have had. So that's what I'm hoping to test, that's why I've been pounding at the Foreign Relations Committee, on the Senate floor, in interviews, and it seems that we're finally going to get a briefing early next week," he said.

"I just hope that that briefing doesn't come too late."

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN: Let's start with what has really been the spark for this latest escalation and that is a U.S. assessment, at least in the view of Trump administration, that Iran was putting missiles on boats in the Persian Gulf and then the concern was those missiles would be used to target U.S. shipping, commercial, and Navy ships in the gulf. But there's a disagreement within the Trump administration as to whether that was a defensive step by Iranians or an offensive one. I'm curious who you believe here.

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ: Well, the answer to that question would lie in intelligence briefings that senators should have from the administration. This is the most opaque administration I’ve ever dealt with over four presidencies so that we could determine what the analysis is, understand the depth of its analysis and veracity and make the appropriate decision. Right now we are being asked to make foreign policy and national security decisions while flying blindly. It's just wrong.

So if, in fact, that intelligence is the case, it is possible to look at it both ways, as an offensive tactic or a defensive one. I think that what I'm concerned about is the possibility of a major miscalculation here by either side. When the Iranian Supreme Leader says we will not have a war with the United States, yes, but they have a series of proxy allies that can be an indirect conflict with the interests of the United States.

JIM SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this because this is an administration that has politicized intelligence before to its advantage, most famously, of course, the president denying intelligence assessments about Russian interference in the election, but also specific to Iran, the American intelligence agencies told this administration Iran was complying with the nuclear deal, the president didn't accept that. Are you concerned right now that intelligence is being politicized here to the advantage of factions of the administration who perhaps want to get on a military confrontation with Iran?

BOB MENENDEZ: Well, I will be better poised to give you an answer to that when we get hopefully all senators briefing by what I hope is both the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and our intelligence community to assess the intelligence and to test its veracity.

What we do not need is another Iraq "weapons of mass destruction" moment that led us into one of the worst engagements we have had. So that's what I'm hoping to test, that's why I've been pounding at the Foreign Relations Committee, on the Senate floor, in interviews, and it seems that we're finally going to get a briefing early next week, I just hope that that briefing doesn't come too late. We are going to test the veracity of this and they are going to have to show us. If they do have actionable intelligence this we should be sharing with our allies so we can have a diplomatic surge to get Iran to the negotiating table and move forward in an agreement that all could ultimately survive with.

JIM SCIUTTO: Do you believe that members of the trump administration, specifically the national security adviser John Bolton, want a military conversation with Iran?

BOB MENENDEZ: Well, I haven't had discussions with Ambassador Bolton specifically as it relates to Iran, but I will say that based upon his past speeches when he was a private citizen and his overall view I think he has a much more robust view than the president does on the use of force as a tool to achieve foreign policy goals. And that is something that has to be obviously constrained.

Look, if I see the president's legacy so far over his last two and a half years is he wants to get American troops out of the middle east, sometimes I disagree with how he wants to do it, not to add new ones. So he should be seeking a diplomatic surge, he should be getting on the phone with our allies and friends in Germany, in Great Britain and coming together, giving them the actionable intelligence and then finding a pathway forward to a robust diplomacy effort.

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