President Joe Biden’s pick for ambassador to Israel, former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, defended his record related to the Iran nuclear deal during his confirmation hearing Wednesday and made clear that he believes the US is dealing with “an evil, malign government that funds its evil and malign activities first.”
Lew was grilled by Republican members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, particularly over questions related to his role in lifting sanctions against Iran as part of the 2015 nuclear deal. He was also pressed on whether the Biden administration can prevent Tehran from using funds returned by the US with the lifting of additional sanctions for malign activities.
Lew played a key role in the original Iranian nuclear deal in 2015, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fiercely opposed, saying it gives Iran a clear path to an atomic arsenal. Former President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, a move that was supported by Israel.
Iran “is not a rational economic player” and will continue to prioritize funding its malign activities over providing humanitarian support for its own people – regardless of sanctions imposed by the US, Lew told lawmakers.
“It’s not a pure economic question. It’s a question of who are we dealing with,” Lew told Senate lawmakers when asked if there is any way for the Biden administration to guarantee Iran will only use additional funds returned with the lifting of sanctions only for humanitarian purposes.
“It’s not a tradeoff between guns and butter. Guns come first,” he said. “You are dealing with an evil, malign government that funds its evil and malign activities first.”
Lew also said that the vast majority of money returned to Iran with the lifting of sanctions is used for humanitarian purposes and any misappropriated funds “won’t change the thrust of what they do.”