WASHINGTON — Sheldon Adelson waded into Middle East diplomacy this week, suggesting he would not hesitate to carry a big gun in dealing with Iran.
Speaking at Yeshiva University in New York on Tuesday night, the billionaire Las Vegas casino owner and mega-donor to Republican causes drew applause when he said the United States should fire an atomic weapon into the Iranian desert, as a warning to the government that is pursuing its own nuclear capability.
“Then you say, ‘See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development.”
While Adelson, 80, is a well-known hawk when it comes to his support of Israel, his comments on a panel discussion appeared to take it to a new level. They were captured on a video posted by Mondoweiss, a foreign policy news website.
On Wednesday, an Adelson spokesman said the Las Vegan “was obviously not speaking literally” about bombing Iran, “as the context of his remarks make clear.”
“As one of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs, he was using hyperbole to make a point that — based on his nearly seven decade-long experience negotiating business deals — actions speak louder than words,” said Ron Reese, a Las Vegas Sands executive.
In New York, Adelson, chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corp. and publisher of the most widely read daily newspaper in Israel, made no secret he was not a fan of the Obama administration’s attempts to persuade Iran to drop its nuclear ambitions by using economic sanctions as a lever, calling it “absolutely” a demonstration of weakness.
“The worst negotiating tactic I could ever imagine, my entire life,” he said. “Because you can’t get anything. (Obama’s) not saying to them, Roll back your entire program and show that you’re willing to be peaceful. So, roll it all back… and we’ll roll back the sanctions…. What is that, a game of chicken, who’s going to blink first?”
Asked if he would support U.S. negotiations with Iran if they stop nuclear fuel enrichment, Adelson said no.
“What are we going to negotiate about?” Adelson said. “What I would say is, ‘Listen, you see that desert out there, I want to show you something.’ You pick up your cell phone and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say, ‘OK let it go.’ So there’s an atomic weapon, goes over ballistic missiles, the middle of the desert, that doesn’t hurt a soul. Maybe a couple of rattlesnakes, and scorpions, or whatever.”
A demonstration of American strength is “the only thing they understand,” he said.
Adelson was asked about Iran after saying that President Franklin D. Roosevelt could have prevented or at least significantly reduced the severity of the Holocaust.
He said Roosevelt could have persuaded the British government in 1939 not to issue a policy paper that limited and set quotas for Jewish emigration to Palestine. The British at the time were seeking U.S. assistance against the German threat.
Adelson noted Roosevelt’s was a Democratic administration, and “I want to tell you something you probably don’t know. I’m a Republican. Formerly a Democrat because I didn’t know better.”
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760. Follow @STetreaultDC on Twitter