U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael E. Kurilla speaks Tuesday before a hearing of the Senate armed services committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. It was Kurilla's first confirmation hearing in the Senate since he was nominated by President Joe Biden as commander of U.S. Central Command. Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 8 (UPI) -- More than a month after he was nominated by President Joe Biden to be the commander of U.S. Central Command, Lt. Gen. Michael Kurilla appeared in the Senate on Tuesday for a confirmation hearing, where he said that Iran remains the top Middle East threat and should never possess nuclear weapons.
If confirmed, Kurilla would lead American forces in some of the most notorious hot spots in the world. Central Command's area of responsibility includes the Middle East, Egypt in Africa, Central Asia and parts of South Asia.
Testifying before the Senate armed services committee, Kurilla stressed that the United States should not go it alone in attempting to contain Tehran and urged help from allies in the region like Saudi Arabia.
"Iran is the No. 1 destabilizing factor in the Middle East right now with their malign behavior," Kurilla said. "I think going through our partners and allies and strengthening those with a united front with all of our partners and allies is the best way to confront them.
"The U.S. policy that Iran cannot get a nuclear weapon, I think any enforceable agreement should make sure that they do not get a nuclear weapon."
Kurilla told Sen. Jim Inhoff, R-Okla., the panel's ranking Republican, that it's possible that easing sanctions against Iran could help fund operations that endanger U.S. forces.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., questions U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael E. Kurilla on Tuesday before a confirmation hearing of the Senate armed services committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Kurilla is nominated to become commander of U.S. Central Command. Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI
Iran has consistently sought sanctions relief from the United States as a precondition of restarting the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The Obama-era agreement would ease some sanctions against Tehran in exchange for limiting Iran's nuclear research to the laboratory.
Kurilla said U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, is home to nine of the 10 most dangerous terrorist organizations in the world and is also burdened by long-running civil wars in Syria and Yemen. Also, he said, Islamist groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State are re-constituting.
"All of these ill trends are accelerated by water scarcity and food insecurity," Kurilla told the committee. "China has significantly increased its investment and influence in the region and Russia acts as a spoiler.
"If confirmed as the CENTCOM commander, I will protect American interest in the region with these challenges in mind."
Kurilla said the United States also should not forget about Afghanistan, even though U.S. forces are now fully withdrawn from that country, which is now under control of the Taliban.
"While we are no longer in Afghanistan, we must honor and acknowledge the sacrifice of the more than one million service members, civilians, partners and allies who answered the call and did their duty in the war," he said.