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March 04, 2021

ICYMI: SASC Ranking Member Inhofe Asks Top Pentagon Nominee Kahl to Clarify Past Statements on Middle East Policy

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), today questioned Dr. Colin Kahl, President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, about Kahl’s past comments regarding Qassem Soleimani, moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and easing sanctions against Iran. 

Click here to watch Sen. Inhofe’s Q&A. 

Inhofe: Thank you Mr. Chairman. First, I have three comments before I come forth with my questions. Let me make a comment about my rather harsh introductory remarks. I had two problems. One was that, when we had our conversation, I thought it was confidential. I didn't know there are other people on the line, and the second thing is the report —a conversation like that should not go directly to the media, and I don't know why it did. And you don't need to respond to why it did. But in spite of what you may have heard from me, I have one frailty, which I have lived with for a long time, and that is, in spite of what you think, I love everybody. Now here are my three questions, and I structured these, Dr. Kahl, to be yes or no questions, so it should be easy and I ought to be able to get all of them in so you can start the clock here. Dr. Kahl, you said that — under Soleimani’s leadership, the Quds force was responsible for the murder of hundreds of American men and women in uniform. Soleimani also armed, trained and directed funds to terrorist groups across the region, which deliberately killed many thousands of innocent people in addition to Americans. Dr. Kahl, you said that Soleimani’s killing in January 2020 would lead to war — this didn't happen. How do you see it now? Is the world a better place without Soleimani? Yes or no.

Kahl: I didn't shed a tear for the death of Qassem Soleimani for all the reasons that you mentioned. Senator Inhofe, I was concerned about the escalatory dynamics is the world and —

Inhofe: Is the world in a better position now without him?

Kahl: I think it probably is a better place without him.

Inhofe: Thank you. You wrote the President Trump's decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem risks a third Palestinian uprising, and that also, as I said in my opening statement, didn't happen…In fact, the Israeli-Arab cooperation has never been better. Do you acknowledge that your previous assumption that…were those statements a mistake? Do you agree with it now?

Kahl: I think dynamics in the Middle East have changed. I support the Abraham Accords, and I wouldn't move the embassy back to Jerusalem, and that's the policy – I mean, move it away from Jerusalem —and that's President Biden's policy, which I support.

Inhofe: Very good. Last Thursday at the Secretary of Defense Austin's recommendation, President Biden took lethal action against Iranian-backed groups that continue to target Americans. I agreed with that action. Dr. Kahl, do you agree and support of President Biden's actions against the Iranian-backed militias, and do you believe pressure must continue to be placed on groups who take their orders from Iranian leadership?

Kahl: I do.

Inhofe: Good. And do you agree that so long as Iranian-backed groups continue to target Americans for murder, any easing of sanctions against Iran should be off the table?

Kahl: I believe that we need to get the nuclear program in a box, because as troubling as Iran's behavior is — and it's very troubling — it would be exponentially more dangerous if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon. So there may be contexts in which nuclear-related sanctions are part of a compliance or compliance framework, but we should not be loosening sanctions on terrorism or human rights, or anything else that checks back Iran’s destabilizing activities.

Inhofe: If they continue to target Americans for murder, would easing the sanctions against Iran —do you think they should be off the table?

Kahl: Iran is engaged in those activities before the Iran deal, during the Iran deal and since we've reimposed sanctions after leaving the Iran deal. I think we need to check back Iran through a whole host of steps, some of which include sanctions, but there are many other things we need to be doing alongside our allies in the region to counterbalance Iran.

Inhofe: OK, I’m going to ask this one more time. We're talking about in the event that they continue doing what they had been doing, shouldn't easing sanctions be off the table? Yes or no.

Kahl: I think we should not ease sanctions on terrorism or their other activities and we shouldn't ease any sanctions on the nuclear front until Iran is in complete compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA.

Inhofe: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Click here to watch Sen. Inhofe’s opening statement.

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