by Jim Lobe
Tuesday’s floor speech by Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein could bury AIPAC’s hopes of winning passage of what I have called the Kirk-Menendez Wag the Dog Act of 2013…at least for the next month or so. The speech, which was remarkably comprehensive in rebutting virtually every argument made by AIPAC and the 59 co-sponsors in favor of the bill, comes amid a surprising spate of newspaper editorials against the bill, particularly given the dearth of actual news coverage about it. Newspapers that have taken position against the legislation in just the last few days include the Minneapolis Star Tribune, USA Today, the New York Times, and the often-neoconservative-leaning Washington Post. As cash-poor as they are, newspapers are still less susceptible to the kind of pressure exerted by AIPAC and its associated PACs that are able to provide — or deny — substantial cash for political campaigns.
The fact that the number of co-sponsors of the bill has been frozen at 59 since last week — and as important — that at least one co-sponsor, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, has said now is not the time to move the bill suggests that the pressure on Majority Leader Harry Reid to let the bill come to a vote over the next month will recede (barring some provocation by Iran). In that context, Feinstein’s speech will almost certainly strengthen the administration’s pushback against the bill.
While the speech is worth reading in full — precisely because it is so thorough — it’s worth highlighting its explicit concern about the possibility of a “wag the dog” scenario. “While I recognize and share Israel’s concern,” she said, “we cannot let Israel determine when and where the U.S. goes to war. By stating that the U.S. should provide military support to Israel should it attack Iran, I fear that is exactly what this bill will do.” This is a remarkable and courageous statement. So is her characterization of the bill’s likely impact of undermining negotiations as a “march to war.”
Here is her statement:
There’s been a plethora of op-eds and
Senator Dianne Feinstein
Remarks on Iran Sanctions
January 14, 2014
Mr. President, I come to the floor today to discuss a critical issue of national security—how to prevent a nuclear armed Iran.
As I was thinking about our troubled history with Iran and whether more sanctions at this time make sense for our national security interests, I asked myself these questions:
• Can a country change?
• Is it possible for an isolated regime to rejoin the community of nations and change its behavior?
• Must a country and its people be held captive because of the behavior of previous leaders in earlier times?
So I thought back on history.
I was a young girl during World War II. I remember when Imperial Japan killed millions in Southeast Asia, and particularly China, during its brutal wars of expansion. Today, Japan is a peaceful democracy and one of this nation’s strongest allies in Asia.
I remember when Hitler and the German Third Reich committed unspeakable atrocities across Europe– including the murder of six million Jews. Germany is now a close ally and a leader in the European Union, an institution created to ensure a war never again occurs in Europe.
I remember General Franco’s Spain which was so diplomatically and economically isolated that it was actually barred from the United Nations until 1955. Spain is now a close partner of the United States and a fully democratic member of the EU.
The former Yugoslavia, Vietnam and South Africa have all experienced tremendous change in recent decades.
• Independent states have emerged from the painful dissolution of Yugoslavia;
• Vietnam has opened itself to the international community, but still has much progress to make; and
• South Africa has shed apartheid and has emerged as an increasingly stable nation on a much-divided continent.
So I believe a nation can change.
This capacity to change also applies to the pursuit of nuclear weapons.
At one time, Sweden, South Korea and Argentina each pursued nuclear weapons.
• Following World War II, Sweden pursued nuclear weapons to deter foreign attack. It mastered nuclear technology and built and tested components for a nuclear weapon. It may have even obtained enough nuclear material to build a bomb. In 1970, it signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and ended its nuclear weapons program.
• In the early 1970s, South Korea actively sought a nuclear device. The United States heavily pressured South Korea not to go nuclear. And in April 1975, it signed the NPT and halted its nuclear weapons-related activities.
• Throughout the 1980s – when it was ruled by a military junta with an egregious human rights record – Argentina had a covert nuclear weapons program. It built uranium production, enrichment and reprocessing facilities. And it attempted to develop nuclear-capable ballistic missiles before abandoning its nuclear weapons program and ratifying the NPT in 1995.
The question comes: is Iran willing to change its past behavior and abandon its pursuit of a nuclear weapon? It may well be. It is the job of diplomacy to push for this change.
Election of Rouhani
I believe there are positive signs that Iran is interested in such a change, and I’d like to explain my reasons.
The election of Hassan Rouhani was a surprise to many longtime observers of Iran because he campaigned in support of repairing Iran’s relationship with the West. And since his inauguration he has tried to do exactly that.
• For the first time since the Iranian Revolution, the leaders of our countries have been in direct communication with each other.
• Where once direct contact even between even senior officials was rare, now Secretary John Kerry and Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman are in near-constant contact with their Iranian counterparts. Those conversations produced the historic Geneva agreement which goes into effect on January 20th.
Candidate Rouhani also promised to increase nuclear transparency, and he has delivered on that as well.
Even before the Geneva interim agreement was reached, Iran slowed uranium enrichment and construction of the Arak heavy-water reactor. Maybe for technical reasons, maybe not.
Iran has also re-engaged with the IAEA to resolve questions surrounding Iran’s nuclear activities.
What has been achieved in Geneva?
The interim 6-month agreement, reached between the P5+1 countries—the United States, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and Germany—freezes Iran’s nuclear program in place while a comprehensive agreement is negotiated in the next 6 months. This agreement:
• Caps Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium at 5 percent;
• Stops the production of 20 percent enriched uranium;
• Requires the neutralization of Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent uranium;
• Prevents Iran from installing additional centrifuges or operating its most advanced centrifuges;
• Prohibits Iran from stockpiling excess centrifuges;
• And it halts all significant work at the Arak heavy-water reactor and prevents Iran from constructing a plutonium reprocessing facility.
Most importantly, the interim agreement imposes the most intrusive international inspection regime ever. International inspectors will independently verify whether or not Iran is complying with the interim agreement.
For the first time, IAEA inspectors will have uninterrupted access to Iran’s:
• Enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow;
• Centrifuge production plants;
• Centrifuge assembly facilities; and
• Iran’s uranium mines and mills.
And finally Iran is required to declare all planned new nuclear facilities.
In exchange, the P5+1 negotiators offered sanctions relief limited to $7 billion–an aspect of the interim agreement that has been criticized.
Here are the facts on this sanctions relief, which in my view does not materially alter the biting sanctions that have devastated Iran’s economy:
• The vast majority of sanctions relief comes in the form of Iran repatriating $4.2 billion of its own money;
• Iran will continue to lose $4-$5 billion per month in lost oil revenue from existing sanctions;
• Iran will not have access to about $100 billion of its own reserves trapped by sanctions abroad.
• For perspective, the total estimated sanctions relief is valued at approximately 1 percent of the Iranian economy. Hardly a significant amount.
I would like to take a moment to detail what is not in the interim agreement.
• First, the interim agreement does not grant Iran a right to enrich.
The United States does not recognize such a right for the five non-nuclear weapons states that currently have enrichment programs, and we will make no exception for Iran.
But Iran does have a right to peaceful nuclear energy if it fully abides by the terms of its safeguards agreement under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
• Second, the agreement does not in any way unravel our core oil and financial sanctions.
Others have argued the suspension of any sanctions against Iran will unravel the entire sanctions regime.
The Obama Administration has taken action to make sure that does not happen.
Two days after the interim agreement was reached, the U.S. settled with a Swiss oil services company over sanctions violations. The settlement of more than $250 million was the largest against a foreign firm outside of the banking industry.
On December 12th, the Administration announced the expansion of Iranian entities subject to sanctions. These entities either helped Tehran evade sanctions and or provided support to Iran’s nuclear program.
On January 7th, the Administration halted the transfer of two Boeing airplane engines from Turkey to Iran.
Through these actions, the Obama Administration has made it abundantly clear the U.S. will continue to enforce our sanctions against Iran.
• Third, the agreement does not codify the violation of U.N. Security Council Resolutions.
Critics have attacked the interim agreement for its failure to completely halt all of Iran’s nuclear enrichment by noting that six UN Security Council Resolutions have called on Tehran to do so and it has not done so.
The purpose of the UN Resolutions was not to suspend nuclear enrichment indefinitely.
Instead, the resolutions were designed to freeze Iran’s nuclear activities until the IAEA could determine whether or not Iran’s activities were for exclusively peaceful purposes.
This is an important point: the interim agreement achieves what the UN Resolutions could not.
It freezes Iran’s nuclear progress while a comprehensive, verifiable agreement is being negotiated.
The effect of sanctions on Iran’s economy
The interim agreement was only possible because a strong international sanctions regime has worked to convince rank and file Iranians that, candidly, enough is enough!
• According to the State Department, as a result of the sanctions, Iranian crude oil exports have plummeted from approximately 2.5 million barrels per day in 2011 to around 1 million barrels per day in recent months.
• This decline costs Iran $3 to $5 billion per month in lost revenue alone.
• In total, 23 importers of Iranian oil have eliminated or significantly reduced purchases from Iran.
o Iran currently has only six customers for its oil: China, India, Turkey, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan.
• In the last year, Iran’s gross domestic product shrank by 5.8 percent while inflation is estimated to be 50 percent or more.
• Prices for food and consumer goods are doubling and tripling on an annual basis, and estimates put unemployment as high as 35 percent while underemployment is pervasive.
This body may soon consider the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, a bill to impose additional sanctions against Iran.
Before casting a vote, senators should ask themselves what would happen if the bill passes and a promised veto by the president is not sustained?
I sincerely believe that P5+1 negotiations with Iran would end and with it the best opportunity in more than 30 years to make a major change in Iranian behavior – a change that could not only open all kinds of economic opportunities for the Iranian people, but change the course of a nation.
Passing additional sanctions now would play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see diplomacy fail.
Iranian conservatives will attack President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif for seeking a nuclear compromise and argue that:
• Iran exchanged a freeze of its nuclear program for additional and harshly punitive sanctions;
• If the U.S. cannot honor the interim agreement negotiated in Geneva, it will never lift sanctions after a final agreement;
• Above all, they will argue the U.S. is not interested in nuclear diplomacy—we are interested in regime change;
The bottom line: if this body passes S. 1881, diplomatic negotiations will collapse and there will be no final agreement. Some might want that result, but I do not.
Iran’s nuclear program would once again be unrestrained and the only remaining option to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon would be a military action.
To date, the prospect of just considering this bill has prompted Iranian legislators to consider retaliation.
There is talk that the legislative branch, the Majles, may move to increase nuclear enrichment far beyond the 5 percent limit in the interim agreement and much closer to, if not achieving, weapons grade uranium.
So, the authors of additional sanctions here and Iranian hardliners there actually would combine to blow up the diplomatic effort of six world powers.
The bill’s sponsors have argued that increased sanctions would strengthen the United States’ hand in negotiations. They argue that sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table. They contend that additional sanctions would force Iran to abandon its nuclear program.
I could not disagree more.
Let me give you the views of other individuals who are knowledgeable in the arena:
Dr. Paul Pillar—a former senior U.S. intelligence official and current professor at Georgetown University—recently wrote:
It is the prospect of having U.S.- led sanctions removed that will convince Iran to accept severe restrictions on its nuclear program. Threatening Iran with additional sanctions now–after it agreed to the interim agreement–will not convince Tehran to complete a final agreement.
If this bill would help our negotiators, as its authors contend, they would say so.
This bill is an egregious imposition on the executive’s authority to conduct foreign affairs. In fact, our Secretary of State has formally asked the Congress to “give our negotiators and our experts the time and the space to do their jobs,” including no new sanctions.
To disregard this request is to effectively say we don’t care what our top diplomat says—the Senate will impose our will. And if it blows up this very fragile process, too bad! What a tragedy!
And we know what the Iranian reaction will be:
Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif has clearly stated what the result will be summarized in five words: “the entire deal is dead.”
The Ambassador of our staunchest ally—the U.K.—warned this body not to pass more sanctions. Sir Peter Westmacott recently wrote:
“Further sanctions now would only hurt negotiations and risk eroding international support for the sanctions that have brought us this far. The time for additional measures will come if Iran reneges on the deal or if negotiations fail. Now is not that time.”
A vote for this legislation will cause negotiations to collapse. The United States—not Iran—becomes the party that risks fracturing the international coalition that has enabled our sanctions to succeed in the first place.
And it says to the U.K., China, Russia, France and Germany that our country cannot be trusted to stand behind our diplomatic commitments.
These allies will question whether their compliance with sanctions (and the economic sacrifices they have made) are for naught.
Should these negotiations fall apart, the choices are few and the most likely result, in my view, is the eventual and inevitable use of military force.
Is that really the choice we want to make?
Enforcing the Interim Agreement
Instead this body should concentrate on Iranian compliance with the interim agreement.
On January 20, 2014 the interim agreement will come into effect. Over the next six months, the international community will be able to verify whether or not Iran is keeping its commitments to freeze its nuclear progress.
If Iran fails to abide by the terms of the interim agreement, or if a final agreement cannot be negotiated, Congress can immediately consider additional sanctions.
Additional sanctions should only be considered once our diplomatic track has been given the opportunity to forge a final, comprehensive, and binding agreement.
Undermining negotiations now, after achieving meaningful, historic progress, defies logic and threatens to instantly reverse fragile, unprecedented diplomacy.
Candidly, it is a march to war.
As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I know the many challenges Iran poses to U.S. interests around the world.
Iran’s patronage of the terrorist group Hezbollah and its support for Syria’s Bashar Assad through the Revolutionary Guard Corps are two of the most troubling.
And let me acknowledge Israel’s real, well-founded concerns that a nuclear-armed Iran would threaten its very existence.
While I recognize and share Israel’s concern, we cannot let Israel determine when and where the U.S. goes to war.
By stating that the U.S. should provide military support to Israel should it attack Iran, I fear that is exactly what this bill will do.
The interim agreement with Iran is strong, tough and realistic. It represents the first significant opportunity to change a three decade course in Iran and an opening to improve one of our most poisonous bilateral relationships.
It opens the door to a new future which not only considers Israel’s national security—but protects our own.
To preserve diplomacy, I strongly oppose the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act.