Neera Tanden, president and CEO of the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress, downplayed Iran's nuclear capabilities during a heated panel discussion Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."
Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee (Calif.), a fellow panelist, said President Donald Trump has signaled he could withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, and argued such a move would hurt the United States' goal of reducing tensions around the world.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Penn.) pushed back against this assertion, and said that Iran having a nuclear weapon in 10 years does not constitute "reducing tensions."
Tanden, a former adviser to Hillary Clinton, disagreed with Santorum's assessment.
"President Obama actually put in place a regime to stop Iran from becoming North Korea, "Tanden said. "Iran is not testing nuclear weapons. They are not threatening their neighbors with nuclear bombs, and you are opposed to that."
Tanden then downplayed the possibility of a nuclear threat from Iran compared to what she described as a relatively greater threat from North Korea. She said Pyongyang has a bomb now, and the Trump administration needs to be focused on North Korea, not Iran.
On the heels of North Korea's sixth nuclear test Saturday, senior North Korean and Iranian officials have been meeting. U.S. officials are closely monitoring that meeting, and sources close to the matter have expressed concerns that North Korea could be helping Iran obtain a functional nuclear weapon, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
Sources told the Washington Free Beacon that Pyongyang continues to stockpile illicit nuclear material on Iran's behalf in order to help the Islamic Republic skirt restrictions implemented under the landmark nuclear deal.
North Korea's latest nuclear test of a hydrogen bomb has roiled Trump administration officials and led President Donald Trump to consider multiple options for war. However, it also has renewed fears among U.S. officials and foreign policy insiders about Pyongyang's long-standing relationship with Iran, which centers on providing the Islamic Republic with nuclear technology and know-how.
The head of North Korea's parliament arrived this weekend in Iran for a 10-day visit aimed at boosting ties between the two countries amid an international crackdown on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program, a situation U.S. officials tell the Free Beacon is being closely monitored.
One U.S. official, who handles the portfolios of North Korea and Iran, said there is a deep history of collaboration between the two countries.
"The history of collaboration between North Korea and Iran has been an ongoing concern and needs to be watched closely," the official told the Free Beacon. "We've been laboring under the false assumption that these oppressive regimes are rational and that we can persuade them to act for the greater good. President Trump has made it clear those days are at an end, and that the United States will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from turning into another North Korea."
Tanden praised the Iran nuclear deal back in July 2015, saying in a statement that it "cuts off Iran's major pathways to a nuclear weapon for a decade or more and provides for intrusive international inspections of all aspects of Iran’s nuclear program."
"By resolving the Iranian nuclear issue for at least a decade, the United States is in an even stronger position to oppose Iran’s other destabilizing behavior in the Middle East and around the world," Tanden added.