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Ryan Zinke

U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont.,

talks with Helena City Manager Ron Alles as a member of his staff, Judy Rolfe, listens on Thursday morning after Hometown Helena, a weekly community forum, where he discussed the proposed nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers. He said it was a bad deal but not taking it was also a bad deal. Because the agreement is in Iran’s best interests, he added, he anticipates Iran will adhere to its terms.

Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, made a surprise appearance at the weekly community forum, Hometown Helena, and said he didn’t like the proposed nuclear agreement negotiated with Iran.

Congressional lawmakers have yet to act on the proposed agreement that has divided them and stirred debate nationally.

Zinke said he was in Whitefish before traveling to Billings to meet with the Israeli consulate.

“I think the deal’s a bad deal,” he told the Hometown Helena audience on Thursday. “I think not taking the deal’s a bad deal.”

He said he believed Iran would probably adhere to the agreement's terms because it's in Iran’s best interests.

Among the concerns Zinke outlined with the deal is that in five years, Iran will be allowed to have updated guidance systems and telemetry.

In eight years, he continued, Iran will be allowed to have intercontinental ballistic missiles that can hit Helena.

Zinke said he didn’t believe the deal’s language for verification was strong enough and said, “I don’t trust Iran, and you shouldn’t either.”

“My concern is trust but verify. I don’t think the verification is robust enough and secondly does it change their behavior? It does not,” he said after the Hometown Helena session.

“There’s only one country that if Iran breaks the rules that can intervene militarily or otherwise,” he told the audience of his view of the United States.

There are consequences if the United States withdraws into isolationism, he continued.

People have always risen against tyranny because they knew the United States would be there, Zinke said. And when the United States no longer stands, it has a catastrophic effect.

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Allowing Iran to possess nuclear weapons will start an arms race in the Middle East that will go out of control in a region that is widely unstable, he said.

Current estimates are that Israel has 60 nuclear weapons, he said in response to a question on that nation's possession of these weapons.

After the session of Hometown Helena ended, Zinke, who is a Navy SEAL veteran, elaborated on his concerns and said, “If Iran has a nuclear weapon or obtains one, there’s no doubt in my mind that Saudi will feel threatened. And when Saudi feels threatened, Turkey -- although we have nuclear devices there -- Turkey will feel a need to have a defense.

“In that neighborhood, in which I have a lot of experience, there is no doubt that if one group has it, then there’ll be others. And that’s a significant concern.”

The concern is not just with nations who would obtain nuclear weapons but about other groups as well, Zinke said

“When you have extremism, it’s not only nation states but you have surrogates and it is not beyond the realm of possibility or likelihood that the extremists, either through a nation state or surrogate, would have that intention,” he said. 

“Iran has not shown itself to be a respectable nation state. They are funding Hezbollah, they are funding Hamas and they have not shown that they are a responsible nation state,” he said.

“I think the narrative of take the deal or go to war is a false narrative. There are multiple options to include keeping the sanctions there, tightening the sanctions,” Zinke said.

On Wednesday, the New York Times reported on President Obama's speech at American University where he said the choice is between diplomacy and some sort of war. He said war might not happen tomorrow or three months from now, but soon.

“How can we in good conscience justify war before we’ve tested a diplomatic agreement that achieves out objectives?” the president asked in his address.

“We have to be very, very cautions,” said Zinke, who plans a trip to Israel to discuss the proposed deal with Iran. “Nuclear weapons is serious and sober.”

“This is at a juncture, and I’m concerned,” he added.

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Al Knauber can be reached at al.knauber@helenair.com

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I am a staff writer at the Independent Record covering primarily city and county governments.

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