The Cable

Romney changes his red lines on Iran on rabbi call

On a conference call with American rabbis Thursday evening, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney altered his position on what "red lines" he would set for Iran before deciding military action was necessary.

"Your good friend Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu says that the international community needs to draw a red line for Iran. Do you agree that a red line needs to be drawn, and where would you draw it?," Rabbi Efrem Goldberg asked on the call, a recording of which was provided to The Cable.

"With regards to the red line, I would imagine Prime Minister Netanyahu is referring to a red line over which if Iran crossed it would take military action. And for me, it is unacceptable or Iran to have the capability of building a nuclear weapon, which they could use in the Middle East or elsewhere," Romney said. "So for me, the red line is nuclear capability. We do not want them to have the capacity of building a bomb that threatens ourselves, our friends, and the world."

"Exactly where those red lines [should be drawn] is something which, I guess, I wouldn't want to get into in great detail, but you understand they are defined by the Iranian capability to have not only fissile material, but bomb making capability and rocketry," Romney said.

Romney's remark that the United States should take military action if Iran develops nuclear weapons "capability" matches what many GOP leaders and pro-Israel groups have publicly stated, but it stands in contrast to the "red line" Romney set out in a Sept. 14 interview with ABC News.

"My red line is Iran may not have a nuclear weapon," Romney told network host George Stephanopoulos. "It is inappropriate for them to have the capacity to terrorize the world.  Iran with a nuclear weapon or with fissile material that can be given to Hezbollah or Hamas or others has the potential of not just destabilizing the Middle East. But it could be brought here."

Asked if his red line was the same as President Obama's, Romney told ABC, "Yes."

Rabbi Goldberg also asked Romney what exactly he would do differently than the current administration to prevent a nuclear Iran. Romney offered few specifics. He referenced his January 2007 speech at the Herzliya Conference, where he called for several specific measures.

"We recently have done one of them, which is getting crippling sanctions. It's taken a long time to finally come around to that, but that is one of the key elements to changing Iran's course," Romney said. "Sanctions are having an impact on their economy. Unfortunately, they took so long to be put in place that I think Iran is racing forward with their nuclear plans."

He said he would increase the credibility of the military option and U.S. support for dissidents in Iran.

He also called for the indictment of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for "genocide."

"I think we should indict Ahmadinejad under the Genocide Convention for incitation of genocide," Romney said. "I think that he and the diplomats in Iran should be treated like the pariah[s] they are ... I believe they should be treated the same way we treated South Africa during apartheid."

In the call, Romney did not address the controversy over his remarks at a May fundraiser where he all but counted out the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In a hidden camera video posted by Mother Jones magazine, Romney told a group of donors in May that Palestinians "have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace," and that a two-state solution is "almost unthinkable to accomplish."

"We have a potentially volatile situation but we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it," Romney said.

"But I always keep open: the idea of pushing on the Israelis to give something up to get the Palestinians to act is the worst idea in the world. We have done that time and time and time again. It does not work," Romney said to the donors. "So the only answer is show them strength. American strength, American resolve, and the Palestinians will some day reach the point where they want peace more than we're trying to force peace on them. Then it's worth having the discussion. So until then, it's just wistful thinking."

Addressing the tension between the Obama and Netanyahu governments, Romney said Thursday, "Our relationship with Israel should be one which the world sees as being extraordinarily close ... and if per chance there are disagreements, we keep those disagreements to ourselves and in private, as opposed to airing them out in public."

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

The Cable

‘Sportsman’s Act’ derails votes on foreign aid and Iran containment bills

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was all set to get his full Senate vote today on his bill to cut all U.S. aid to Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan; and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was set to get a vote on his resolution to establish the sense of the Senate that containment of a nuclear Iran is not an option for U.S. policy.

But the entire deal was derailed by a last-minute effort by Senate leaders to add a new bill to the agreement, a "Sportsman Act" sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), who is up for re-election. Tester's bill would ease restrictions on hunting, fishing, and shooting on federal public lands.

On Thursday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that he had worked out a deal with Paul to move on all of the Senate's outstanding business this afternoon, including a continuing resolution to fund the government past Oct. 1. Under the deal, Paul would get one hour of debate and a vote on his bill to cut all U.S. aid to Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan. There would also be a one-hour debate on the containment resolution, which was also led by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Bob Casey (D-PA). (Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) had objected to the deal late Wednesday but lifted his objection Thursday.)

Then suddenly Thursday afternoon, Reid announced there would be no more votes and he took a swipe a Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), accusing him of wanting to avoid his evening debate with challenger Elizabeth Warren.

Multiple senators and staffers said late Thursday that it was Reid, however, who derailed the deal at the last minute by attempting to add the Tester bill, prompting an objection by the GOP Senate leadership.

"Today, [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell has agreed to the same UC [unanimous consent agreement] that was offered last night by Senator Reid, but now Senator Reid wants a UC that includes not just the Paul, Graham, and [continuing resolution] votes, but also a vote on the Tester amendment," Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said Thursday afternoon.

All Senate business is on hold while the leadership of both caucuses negotiates behind closed doors. Paul had repeatedly threatened to oppose unanimous consent to move any legislation unless he got his vote, so without a deal, Senate leaders would have to go through long voting procedures that could keep lawmakers in town well into the weekend.

Senators do hope to leave town this weekend, so a deal Friday is widely expected. A deal would also pave the way for the Senate to confirm a host of ambassadors before leaving Washington, including the nominees for envoy posts in Iraq and Pakistan.

The containment resolution has more than 80 co-sponsors and is expected to pass by a wide margin. The Paul bill to prohibit aid to Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan is not expected to pass.