Biden’s CIA nominee: Important US does 'everything' to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapon

Career diplomat with 33 years of foreign policy experience testifies in US Senate intelligence hearing

The US nominee to lead the CIA, William Burns, said Iran should never have a nuclear weapon and warned of challenges posed by its destabilising behaviour.

Mr Burns, a veteran diplomat who negotiated openly and secretly with Iran in the Bush and the Obama administrations, appeared before the US Senate in his confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

"I think it’s absolutely important for the United States to do everything we can to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon,” he told the Senate intelligence committee

Later in the hearing, Mr Burns named several challenges that Iran poses beyond its nuclear programme and said that, if confirmed, he would provide a holistic assessment to President Joe Biden.

“Challenges posed by Iranian behaviour are not ones we can afford to ignore, across the board: ballistic missile development as well as subversive and destabilising actions in the Middle East and human rights abuses inside Iran as well,” Mr Burns said.

But the career diplomat, who brings 33 years of foreign policy experience, focused most of his hearing on countering a more provocative Russia and a rising China.

He advised “firmness and consistency” in dealing with Moscow, and called the SolarWinds cyber attack, for which the US blamed Russia, a “very harsh wake-up call".

The Biden administration is set to impose new sanctions on Moscow related to the hack, Politico reported this week.

Mr Burns, who has served as ambassador to Russia, said putting a cost on its actions could be effective.

"We have more effects sometimes on [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s calculus when he sees responses coming, firm responses coming not just from the United States but from our European allies and others as well," he said.

"So it pays off to work hard at widening that circle of countries who are going to push back."

In his opening statement, Mr Burns called China "a formidable, authoritarian adversary – methodically strengthening its capabilities to steal intellectual property, repress its own people, bully its neighbours, expand its global reach and build influence in American society".

But while he pushed for stronger resources to counter Beijing, Mr Burns also saw need to co-operate with it.

“There will be areas in which it will be in our mutual self-interest to work with China, from climate change to non-proliferation,” he said.

Mr Burns’s hearing received praise from Republicans and Democrats, indicating his confirmation will be swift and easy.

He was introduced by former Republican secretary of state James Baker, who called him “someone who seizes and surmounts every challenge that he meets".

Mr Burns, 64, served under successive US Republican and Democratic presidents from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, speaks Arabic, Russian and French.

He brings vast knowledge of the Middle East, having been ambassador in the region intimately involved with the Iran negotiations since 2006, and as former assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs.

Mr Burns was a deputy secretary of state from 2011 to 2014; undersecretary of political affairs from 2008 to 2011; ambassador to Russia in 2005 to 2008; ambassador to Jordan between 1998 and 2001; and assistant secretary for Near East affairs from 2001 to 2005.