Sen. Ayotte on showdown with Iran over Yemen

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," April 21, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: After the showdown, time to just shut the entire deal down?

To New Hampshire Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte.

First off, Senator, before we get to the deal...


CAVUTO: ... do you know whether we have the authority in presumably international waters to board a ship or a series of vessels we suspect might be bringing arms to a country?

AYOTTE: Well, I think the fact there's a U.N. resolution that prevents these arms to going to the Houthis in Yemen gives us authority to do that. But you would think that if Iran is -- had said that they don't have any military equipment on these vessels, then they wouldn't mind if we boarded, and they'd invite us on board to show us that there aren't in fact any arms.

But the fact is, is that we know Iran is arming the Houthis. We know that it undermining our interests. In fact, we had to leave Yemen. And then who is the big winner? Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is centered in Yemen, which is dangerous to us and of course the world.

And I think it highlights, Neil, the problem we have in these negotiations. All this has been off the table. Iran's activities, state sponsor of terrorism, has been off the table. Isn't that absurd? Here we are in this potential confrontation leading to Yemen, and yet it's not being discussed at all in the context of these negotiations. And we're not using our leverage in those negotiations to get them to stop this kind of behavior.

CAVUTO: Are you surprised that they're even doing this or behaving like this when the deal isn't a signed and done one, by any means, as you pointed out, Senator, that even if they were to pull these kinds of stunts, assuming they are sending military equipment here -- they have got a convoy of ships. They're not sending shredded wheat.

AYOTTE: Right.

CAVUTO: This is unprecedented, this number of ships, I'm told.

Leaving that aside, isn't it just better if you're going to do this kind of thing to do it after you have signed a deal?

AYOTTE: Well, I think it shows you how emboldened Iran is.

And you hear the Iranian leaders talking, the supreme leader talking about the that they're expecting immediate sanctions release. I think it shows you that they think that they have our ticket in all this. And the president's response is, oh, we will just send Secretary Kerry in there to be more creative with our negotiations.

Well, I think it's time for us to really stand up for our interests. And that has to be, to really put it to the Iranians, you stop this right away or we aren't going to have an agreement. In fact, we will ratchet up sanctions again. And then with what's happening with the price of oil, we know that it's hurting their economy.

But the fact that this isn't even on the table is absurd, when you think about it.

CAVUTO: You know, Senator John McCain looked at this overall situation, and this obviously escalating international incident between our countries and said it was very obvious to many of us that this did not have to happen.

Quoting Senator McCain: "We did not take care of the regime that was in place, the president that was in there." Talking about Yemen. "It is a symptom of our failure throughout the Middle East."

What did you make of that?

AYOTTE: I have to agree that we have seen a consistent pattern with this administration where we don't get engaged in supporting our friends forcefully enough.

And so the problems that flow from there is that our friends aren't able to rely on us and that our enemies feel emboldened. And you see how emboldened Iran is right now. You also see how emboldened Russia -- Russia is with the sales they're now trying to make to Iran. They undermine our interests. And you think about that.

And the president is not coming down on Russia on that either.

CAVUTO: All right, you mentioned earlier that it was a suspicion as such that there are weapons or supplies for some of these rebels on these ships, that we -- and our suspicions are strong -- that we should board them.

Isn't that playing into maybe Iran's hands here, if they are, you mentioned Russia, trying to tempt us into doing just that to make this a bigger international incident?

AYOTTE: Well, I think that Iran is going to be the loser of all of this.

You had, obviously, Saudi Arabia and a number of other Gulf nations allied to try to assist the government in Yemen.

CAVUTO: Right.

AYOTTE: And so we have a lot of friends on our side on this. And I think we could alienate them and show them for what they are, the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world right now.

It's undermining what the U.N. has said about this situation. So, I actually think that we have more people on our side on this and that the world is against them on this issue.

CAVUTO: You know, when it came to the -- not everyone is singing from the same choir book on these type of issues, as you know, Senator, even within the Republican Party.

Senator Lindsey Graham, for example, has criticized Senator Rand Paul on how he flip-flops on these issues. Senator Paul then was asked about that criticism with my friend Bill Hemmer. Here's what he had to say.


SEN. RAND PAUL, R-KY.: But I'm the only one actually standing up and saying the war in Libya was a mistake. The bombing of Assad would make ISIS stronger. The arms to the Islamic rebels would make ISIS stronger.

So I'm really the one standing up to President Obama. And these people are essentially the lapdogs for President Obama. And I think they're sensitive about that.


CAVUTO: He was essentially saying Senator John McCain and Lindsey Graham were lapdogs and are lapdogs to the president.

What did you think of that?

AYOTTE: Well, I think you could ask the current administration. They have been some of the strongest critics for the failed foreign policy of this administration.

And I know one thing about all three of my colleagues there. They all agree that Barack Obama should no longer be commander in chief. So, I think that -- but as I look at Senator McCain and Senator Graham, they have been some of the strongest voices on foreign policy and for America's role in the world.

And I think it demonstrates, if you look at what we're facing right now, that the failed leadership of this administration has put us in this situation where we're in this confrontation right now with Iran. The negotiations that were engaged in the Iranians, it seems to me, we came it into with a strong position, but the Iranians are the ones that keep moving the terms of this potential agreement.

And yet we seem to be acceding to that, and all to the detriment of our interest and the safety of the world.

CAVUTO: You think Rand Paul went a little too far with that lapdog comment?

AYOTTE: Oh, I think that that's just not the case. Obviously, both of them have been such strong leaders on national security and they have stood up to the administration time and time again for what America's role should be and that America needs to lead, or we see what's happening in the chaos around the world and how our friends feel.

They feel left out and that our enemies feel emboldened.

CAVUTO: Do you think that Senator Rand Paul is a little too thin-skinned, he gets a little too rattled and just starts popping off?

AYOTTE: No, I think that you can have lively disagreements on a number of issues. And I think that's one of the things you see happening within our party with a robust Republican presidential primary happening right now.


CAVUTO: Yes, but I don't hear too many Republicans in Ronald Reagan's rule ever call other Republicans lapdogs. Right?

AYOTTE: Well, you know, I firmly believe in Ronald Reagan and all of us working together and for the country. So I would have to say I'm in that camp as well, Neil.

CAVUTO: All right. And you stay above the fray. And I admire that, Senator.

I do not, by the way, so I get right in it.


CAVUTO: But, Senator, let me step back and get a -- there's been talk here that part of this deal, if it ever were to come into place, is Iran gets essentially a $50 billion bonus, that if you were to put a number to all the sanctions that are unfrozen, it amounts to $30 billion to $50 billion, which is like a big signing bonus for them.

What do you think of that and what it takes to trigger that? Apparently, it doesn't mean approval of the whole deal. It could mean just approval of part of the deal.

AYOTTE: Yes, I think that's unclear, what the administration seems to be moving the potential terms of the framework on that.

And the fact that they could get this $50 billion bonus is very concerning, because what are they going to do with that money? That's what they want. This money can be used to fuel terrorism. It can be used to further fuel this conflict in Yemen, support for the murderous Assad regime, Hezbollah, undermining Israel's interests and our interests.

And here we are. We're not even expecting them to fully perform to dismantle their program, which is what we should be asking them to do. And we're not asking them to stop their terrorism in the region, which is causing this confrontation right now.

CAVUTO: I don't know the details of the deal, Senator. You probably do far better than I ever will.

But I do see the Iranian regime continuing to say death to Israel, continuing to say death to America, continuing to say we're everything but pond scum...

AYOTTE: Right.

CAVUTO: ... continuing to meddle in and around the Yemen area, continuing to fund ISIS elements throughout the Middle East.

AYOTTE: Continuing to behave very badly, undermining our national security.


CAVUTO: Well, that's my bigger point. The optics alone don't look good, that if you were going to adhere to a deal, you would at least before anything is committed appear to be behaving.

If they're not, what does that tell you about how they might behave after such a deal, should it come to pass is signed?

AYOTTE: I think it's a huge problem, Neil, because here you would think that they would want to be on their best behavior, so that they could get this agreement and gets the sanctions relief.

Yet they're doing all of these activities that are very, very bad for our interest and undermining our national security interest. And so we're going to expect much worse behavior, as I see it, after this deal is inked. And, also, the bottom line is if we're giving immediate sanctions relief, what kind of leverage do we have to get them to stop their behavior?

CAVUTO: Now, the argument against Republicans on these type of issues, Senator, as I'm sure you have heard, and it has been -- it was made at Senator McCain, it was -- when he was running -- it was made since with comments he's had -- that Republicans seem to be itching to get involved in another conflict in the Middle East.

How would you disavow Americans of that notion that you, your colleagues want a conflict in the Middle East, think that Americans should be once again involved knee-deep in the Middle East? What do you say?

AYOTTE: I think that is completely false, because what we see is, I see what's happening in the Middle East potentially drawing us further into conflict.

So, let me give you an example, Neil. We did not leave a follow-on force in Iraq, and now you see what happens with the vacuum created with ISIS. So, then we have to send our men in women over in uniform to help that situation. And had we left a follow-on, I think the situation would be a lot more stable there.

So, our view is this. If you engage earlier and with all the tools on the table, including your diplomatic skills and engagement, then you actually avoid conflict, because right now as you look at what's happening around the world, there is much more potential for conflict with what the Obama administration has been doing in leading from behind and not engaging with our friends and really pushing and being strong against our enemies and those who are trying to act against us.

CAVUTO: All right, real quickly, you're one of the few senators not running for president of the United States at this moment.

AYOTTE: They're all...


CAVUTO: They all seem to be -- but your name comes up a lot, Senator, as vice presidential candidate, as a running mate.

Would you ever be open to that?

AYOTTE: I will tell you what I want to do, Neil. I want to represent the people of New Hampshire. And that's my focus. So that's what I desire to do and every day represent their interests, make sure this country remains safe, which is the issues that I work on, on the Armed Services Committee.

So, that's where I'm going to continue to work.

CAVUTO: All right. I tried to get something out of you.


AYOTTE: Good try.

CAVUTO: All right, Senator, it's always a pleasure.

AYOTTE: Thanks, Neil.

CAVUTO: Thank you very, very much, Senator Kelly Ayotte. All right.

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