Armed Services chairman: We cannot allow Iran to have nukes

Armed Services chairman: We cannot allow Iran to have nukes
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House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) raised alarms Tuesday over Iran's growing role in the Middle East, saying that a deal allowing Tehran to have "threshold nuclear capability" must not be allowed to happen.

"I believe that it is also critical that we do not validate Iran’s standing in the region by allowing them to have threshold nuclear capability," said Thornberry in remarks prepared for a Tuesday hearing on the Middle East and an authorization for use of military force against ISIS. Iran is currently helping Iraqi forces on a major military offensive against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).   

"That has and will breed instability and increase security competition in both the Middle East and the wider geopolitical order. This must not be allowed to happen," he said.  

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Thornberry also bashed a potential nuclear deal with Iran as one "ratifying Iran as a threshold nuclear power" ahead of remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday. 

Netanyahu opposes a deal that would leave Iran able to produce a nuclear weapon, and is expected to warn lawmakers against accepting such a deal. 

Thornberry also blasted the Obama administration's approach to the Middle East, as well as its attempt to "pivot" to East Asia. 

"Any notion that the U.S. could pivot away from the Mid East toward other regions has proven to be naïve at best," he said. 

"Part of the challenge here is the absence of a comprehensive strategy across the Middle East. The limited approach that the President has taken has left instability and weak, or failed, states from Libya to Yemen," Thornberry said. 

"Many of these locations have become breeding grounds for terrorists, which is the opposite of what the Administration has tried to achieve." 

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Thornberry said as "various actors in the Middle East and elsewhere follow our defense budget debates, one of the results has been more doubts about the reliability of the U.S. as an ally." 

Thornberry said he hoped to hear a comprehensive strategy on the Middle East from hearing witnesses Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, and Christine Wormuth, Defense under secretary for policy.

"What I hope to hear today is a comprehensive strategy, or at least the foundations of a strategy, which will help provide a roadmap toward a more stable Middle East led by responsible actors. These states have just as much of a stake in defeating Islamic terrorism as we do," he said. 

Ranking Member Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Trump cancels presser, cuts short NATO trip | Viral video catches leaders appearing to gossip about Trump | Dem witnesses say Trump committed impeachable offenses | Trump reportedly mulling more troops in Middle East House leaders: Trump administration asking South Korea to pay more for US troops 'a needless wedge' Congress braces for chaotic December MORE (D-Wash.) said the U.S. only had limited power to affect things in the region.

"I think it would be a mistake for us to assume that it is either the U.S. responsibility or that we had the ability ourselves to solve these problems. This is primarily a regional issue. This is primarily a problem of governance, leadership, religion, all manner of different issues colliding in that region," Smith said. 

"This is not something that the U.S. can come up with a plan and then go in there and implement it and fix Syria or fix Yemen or fix Iraq. I think if we took that approach, that would be a mistake and would lead to greater pushback than it would to solutions," he added.

-- Updated at 11:22 p.m.