Menendez, AIPAC Beat Tactical Retreat

by Jim Lobe

The chief Democratic co-sponsor of the Kirk-Menendez “Wag the Dog” bill, Sen. Robert Menendez, took to the floor of the Senate Thursday to express his opposition to a letter from 42 of his Republican colleagues declaring their determination to get a vote on the bill but also re-asserting his strong support for it. His lengthy speech, at least prepared for delivery (and which can be found below), also laid out his views as to what a final agreement should include. The most important passage was this:

A final agreement should move back the timeline for nuclear breakout capability to beyond-a-year — or more and insist on a long-term, 20 year plus, monitoring and verification agreement. That is the only way to force Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons aspirations.

More specifically, he said:

Any final deal must require Iran to halt its advanced centrifuge R&D activities, reduce the vast majority of its 20,000 centrifuges, close the Fordow facility, stop the heavy-water reactor at Arak from ever possibly coming on-line. And it should require Iran’s full-disclosure of its nuclear activities — including its weaponization activities.

Clearly, this suggests that Menendez is prepared to accept a deal that would permit Iran to enrich uranium to low levels, which some analysts will see as a move toward the administration’s view that some enrichment is inevitable, but which was never explicitly excluded by the bill itself.

What was just as or more important as Menendez’s floor speech this afternoon, however, was the alacrity with which AIPAC responded. Less than two hours after the speech had concluded, AIPAC sent out the following release:

AIPAC commends Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) for his strong and eloquent statement on the Senate floor today outlining the threat of Iran’s nuclear program and the imperative of dismantling it. We appreciate his commitment to ensure that any agreement with Iran “is verifiable, effective, and prevents them from ever developing even one nuclear weapon.”

We applaud Senator Menendez’s determined leadership on this issue and his authorship with Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) of the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act. We agree with the Chairman that stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support and that there should not be a vote at this time on the measure. We remain committed to working with the Administration and the bipartisan leadership in Congress to ensure that the Iran nuclear program is dismantled.[Emphasis added.]

One can’t help but feel the timing of all this was more than coincidental. After all, throwing in the towel in what had been, until 10 days ago, an all-out effort by AIPAC to get the bill onto the floor, as well as its emphasis on “bipartisan support,” suggests that the group has reassessed its position in light of its failure to get more than 59 co-sponsors and the rising chorus of criticism about how the fight with the administration was threatening its relationship with the Democratic Party. The fact that the New York Times saw fit to publish a feature article about AIPAC’s setbacks no doubt also contributed to its reassessment, as did the news that both Hillary and Bill Clinton had come out against a vote on the sanctions bill. And, with the disclosure that 42 Republicans had signed a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid promising to use every opportunity they could to force a vote on the measure — thus making the bill appear more partisan than it ever had before — it seems that AIPAC had to do something to preserve some semblance of bipartisanship, apparently even at the risk of embarrassing its most ardent advocate, Mark Kirk. It will be interesting to see what Kirk has to say about both Menendez’s speech and AIPAC’s full-throated endorsement of it.

All of this would appear to herald a renewed focus by AIPAC on legislation that would lay out acceptable terms for a final agreement, which will now serve accordingly as the centerpiece of its lobbying efforts when 14,000 of its members are expected to come to Washington for the group’s annual policy conference March 2-4. One wonders if one reason AIPAC issued its statement today was to ensure that it would get a top administration official to address the conference, a concern that was raised by both former AIPAC honcho Steve Rosen and AIPAC critic Peter Beinart during the recent contretemps between Obama and the lobby group. No doubt, Menendez’s terms for a final agreement will closely match those put forward by AIPAC at its conference which, in turn, no doubt closely match those that the Israeli government deems the best it can realistically demand of the Obama administration at this point.

In any event, for those who have the time, here is Menendez’s floor speech in full:

I come to the floor to speak about one of our greatest national security challenges – a nuclear-armed Iran.

Let me say at the outset, I support the Administration’s diplomatic efforts. I have always supported a two-track policy of diplomacy and sanctions.

I come to the floor to speak about one of our greatest national security challenges – a nuclear-armed Iran. I have long thought of this as a bipartisan national security issue – not a partisan political issue. And I know the distinguished Majority Leader feels similarly. This is — at the end of the day — a national security issue that we must approach in a spirit of bipartisanship and unity. We cannot be pressured by a partisan letter into forcing a vote on this national security matter. Let me say at the outset, I support the Administration’s diplomatic efforts. I have always supported a two-track policy of diplomacy and sanctions.

At the same time, I am convinced that we should only relieve pressure on Iran in exchange for verifiable concessions that will dismantle Iran’s nuclear program. Our success should be measured in years, not months.

And that it be done in such a way that alarm bells will sound — from Vienna to Washington, Moscow and Beijing — should Iran restart its program anytime in the next 20 to 30 years. I’m here to unequivocally state my intention – as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee – to make absolutely certain that any deal the Administration reaches with Iran is verifiable, effective, and prevents them from ever developing even one nuclear weapon.

Let’s remember that – while we in the Senate are not at the negotiating table – we have a tremendous stake in the outcome and an obligation, as a separate co-equal branch of government representing the American people, to provide oversight and an expression of what we expect as to what the end result should be.

But, it’s the Administration that is at the negotiating table with the Iranians – not us; and it’s the Administration that’s ultimately responsible for negotiating a deal to conclusively end Iran’s illicit nuclear program and it’s the Administration that will have to come back to Congress and tell us whether Iran will continue to be a nuclear threshold state.

My sincere desire is for the Administration to succeed. Nobody has worked harder for a peaceful outcome or to get Iran to comply with sanctions than I have.

Based on the parameters described in the Joint Plan of Action and Iranian comments in the days that have followed I am very concerned. This is not a nothing-ventured-nothing-gained enterprise.

We have placed our incredibly effective international sanctions regime on the line without clearly defining the parameters of what we expect in a final agreement.

As Ali Akbar Salehi, the Head of Iran’s nuclear agency said last month on Iranian state television about the agreement, “The iceberg of sanctions is melting while our centrifuges are also still working. This is our greatest achievement.”
Well, Mr. President, it’s my greatest fear. Any final deal must require Iran to dismantle large portions of its illicit nuclear program.

Any final deal must require Iran to halt its advanced centrifuge R&D activities, reduce the vast majority of its 20,000 centrifuges, close the Fordow facility, stop the heavy-water reactor at Arak from ever possibly coming on-line. And it should require Iran’s full-disclosure of its nuclear activities — including its weaponization activities.

For the good of the region and the world, Iran cannot remain a nuclear threshold state.

A final agreement should move back the timeline for nuclear breakout capability to beyond-a-year — or more and insist on a long-term, 20 year plus, monitoring and verification agreement. That is the only way to force Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons aspirations.

Anything less will leave Iran on the cusp of becoming a nuclear state while it re-builds its economy and improves its ability to break-out at a future date.

David Albright — a respected former IAEA Inspector – has said that for Iran to move from an interim to a final agreement, it would have to close the Fordow facility and remove between 15,000 and 16,000 of its 20,000 centrifuges.
Even after such dramatic steps, we are looking at a breakout time of between 6 and 8 months, depending on whether Iran has access to uranium enriched to just 3.5 percent – or access to 20 percent enriched uranium.

Dennis Ross — one of America’s preeminent diplomats and foreign policy analysts who as served under Democratic and Republican Presidents — has said Iran should retain no more than 10 percent of its centrifuges – no more than 2,000.
These estimates are crucial because, at the end of the day, we – in this body — will have to decide whether this is enough to merit terminating sanctions.

Is a 6 month delay in Iran’s breakout ability enough, even when combined with a robust 20 years inspection and verification regime?

Understanding that in allowing Iran to retain its enrichment capabilities, there will always be a risk of breakout.
It may be — that is the only deal we can get. The real question is whether it is a good enough deal to merit terminating sanctions.

My concern is that the Joint Plan of Action does not speak to these recommended centrifuge limitations Dennis Ross suggests. In fact, Iran has already made its views about the limitations of the agreement quite clear.

What the Joint Plan of Action does concede is that Iran will not only retain its ability to enrich – but will be allowed a mutually agreed upon enrichment program.

Here is what Iran’s Foreign Minister, Zarif has said about the interim agreement:

“The White House tries to portray it as basically a dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program. We are not dismantling any centrifuges, we’re not dismantling any equipment, we’re simply not producing, not enriching over 5 percent.”

President Rouhani was adamant in an interview on CNN that Iran will not be dismantling its centrifuges.

And, in an interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN, President Rouhani said: “We are determined to provide for the nuclear fuel of such plants inside the country, at the hands of local Iranian scientists. We are going to follow on this path.”

Fareed Zakaria then asked him: “So there will be no destruction of centrifuges — of existing centrifuges?”
To which Rouhani said: “No. No, not at all.”

In fact, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Araghchi said that Iran would comply with the interim agreement by removing the connections between networks of centrifuges that have been used to enrich uranium to 20 percent, so that they can enrich only to 5 percent and he said:

“These interconnections can be removed in a day and connected again in a day.”

Clearly, their intentions to retain their capability – notwithstanding the agreement — are clear.

And in January, Hassan Rouhani tweeted: “Our relationship with the world is based on Iranian nation’s interest. In Geneva agreement, world powers surrendered to Iranian nation’s will.”

When this tweet was broadly reported-on, Rouhani took it down.

And in a speech when Rouhani was leaving his post as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator in 2005, he said:
“While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the [uranium conversion] facility in Isfahan, but we still had a long way to go to complete the project. In fact, by creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work on Isfahan.”

I find these comments deeply troubling. I find the fact that — even after an agreement was reached in November — the Iranians reportedly fired a rocket into space to improve their ability to develop a long-range ballistic missile system.
In an interview with Reuters, U.S. missile defense expert, Riki Ellison, said of the report: “If it’s true, they continue to expand and grow their long range missile capabilities regardless of their overture to the West with self-reduction of their nuclear capabilities.”

These realities – these statements – these actions – are just as much about the spirit of the interim deal as it is about the letter of the deal and places in question the political will of the Iranians — and our ability to reach a verifiable agreement with those who have been so willing to deceive.

In terms of both Iran’s political will and its ballistic missile capability, James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, said: “Tehran has made technical progress in a number of areas — including uranium enrichment, nuclear reactors, and ballistic missiles — from which it could draw if it decided to build missile-deliverable nuclear weapons. These technical advancements strengthen our assessment that Iran has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons. This makes the central issue its political will to do so.”

So what that analysis reveals is that – years of obfuscation, delay, and endless negotiation – has brought them to the point of having – according to the Director of National Intelligence – the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons.

As to their will to do so, I would say that what they are hiding at Parchin Military Industrial Complex – if revealed, would clearly show their will is to build a nuclear bomb. The only thing that has thwarted that will is crippling sanctions.
In my view, the Iranians are negotiating in bad faith, as we have seen them do in the past.

They say one thing behind closed doors in Geneva, and say another thing publically.

I know the Administration will say this is what President Rouhani needs to do for his domestic audience, but his deeds need to go beyond his words, and they need to be verifiable.

In fact, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, David Albright of the Institute of Science and International Security and an expert on the proliferation of atomic weapons, said that under the interim agreement:

“The breakout time, if Iran used its currently installed centrifuges, would lengthen from at least 1 to 1.6 months to at least 1.9 to 2.2 months.”

That effectively means, without dismantling currently installed centrifuges, Iran has a breakout time of 6 to 8 weeks unless we demand real concessions in a final agreement.

Another major concern is the Arak heavy water reactor — a facility that Dennis Ross has described as “grossly inefficient for producing electricity, but not for generating plutonium for nuclear weapons.”

The Senate was told that the facility would be taken care of in the final agreement – which most of us understood to mean it would be dismantled.

Now, the Joint Plan of Action and the implementing agreement suggest something less than dismantlement.
The implementing agreement says Iran has to “take steps to agree with the IAEA on the conclusion of a safeguards approach to Arak.”

Iran has not provided required design information for Arak — and in the final agreement it seems possible that either Iran will be allowed to complete the reactor and operate it under IAEA safe-guards or the reactor will be simply mothballed – not dismantled – mothballed or perhaps converted to a light-water facility which carries its own risks.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister has said that the Arak reactor is the fastest way to get the material for a nuclear weapon.
So, while I understand the agreement also does not permit Iran to construct a related reprocessing facility at this time, the implication of the agreement’s language is that the final agreement will not actually require the dismantling of the Arak reactor, meaning that Arak could — at a future date — give Iran a relatively quick path to a weapon.

I find that simply unacceptable.

In my view, Iran’s strategy, consistent with their past approaches that have brought them to a nuclear threshold state, is to use these negotiations to mothball its nuclear infrastructure program just long enough to undo the international sanctions regime.

Iran is insisting on keeping core elements of its programs – enrichment, the Arak heavy-water reactor, the underground Fordow facility, and the Parchin military complex.

And, while they may be subject to safeguards — so they can satisfy the international community in the short-run – if they are allowed to retain their core infrastructure, they could quickly revive their program sometime in the future.
At the same time, Iran is seeking to reverse the harsh international sanctions regimes against them.

Bottom line: They dismantle nothing. We gut the sanctions.

Troubling signs have already appeared.

Since the interim deal was signed there was an immediate effort by many nations – including many European nations — to revive trade and resume business with Iran.

There have been recent headlines that the Russians may be seeking a barter deal that could increase Iran’s oil exports by 50 percent.

That Iran and Russia are negotiating an oil-for-goods deal worth $1.5 billion a month — $18 billion a year – which would significantly boost Iran’s oil exports by 500,000 barrels a day in exchange for Russian goods.

A coalition of France’s largest companies are visiting Tehran. Iran welcomed more than 100 executives from France’s biggest firms on Monday, the most senior French trade mission in years.

And, since November there have been 20-plus trade delegations from Turkey, Georgia, Ireland, Tunisia, Kazakhstan, China, Italy, India, Austria, and Sweden.

Iran’s economy is recovering.

The Iranian rial — which had plummeted from an official rate of 10,440 rials to the dollar to a staggering 41,000 in October 2012 — has begun to recover. As of January 29, that rate is about 25,000 rials to the dollar. International Monetary Fund figures also show Iran’s negative growth rate turning around, with Iran having a projected growth rate of 1.28 to almost 2 percent in 2014 and 2015.

As Mark Dubowitz, Executive Director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week, the $7 billion in actual relief Iran will definitively receive under the Joint Plan of Action is very significant – comprising approximately 35 percent of Iran’s fully accessible cash reserves, which are estimated to be $20 billion.

So, while the Iranian economy is accurately described as being much larger, the assessment that this is a drop in the bucket is simply not accurate.

Moreover, that relief fails to consider the $4-5 billion in revenue that Iran would have lost if we had not suspended sanctions on Iran’s crude oil exports.

Sanctions relief — combined with the “open for business sign” that Iran is posting — is paying returns.

It seems to me that the sanctions regime we’ve worked so hard to build is starting to unravel before we ever get a chance to conclude a final agreement with Iran.

The fact is any final deal as inadequate as the one I’ve outlined, will end any pressure on Iran for the foreseeable future.

Put simply, we need a policy that guarantees Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons capability.

To understand how to proceed, we must understand the facts. We need to put the negotiating into context.

First, Iran has a history of duplicity with respect to its nuclear program, using past negotiations to cover up advances in its nuclear program and — most startlingly — at the undeclared Fordow enrichment site, buried deep in a mountain to prevent its discovery and potential destruction.

That begs the obvious question: Why would someone bury such a facility so deep that it could not be discovered if it was solely for peaceful purposes?

It seems unlikely – as Iran’s leaders have made clear in recent days — that Iran will make any concessions that fundamentally dismantle its nuclear program.

The fact is Iran is simply agreeing to lock the door on its nuclear weapons program – as is – and walk away and should they later walk away from a deal as they have in the past, they can simply unlock the door and continue their nuclear weapons program from where they are today.

Sounds a lot like North Korea.

Let’s not forget that President Rouhani, as the former negotiator for Iran, boasted: “The day that we invited the three European ministers to the talks, only 10 centrifuges were spinning at Natanz. We could not produce one gram of U4 or U6. We did not have the heavy water production. We could not produce yellow cake.

Our total production of centrifuges inside the country was 150. We wanted to complete all of these – we needed time. We did not stop. We completed the program.”

The simple truth is he admitted to deceiving the West.

Given President Rouhani’s own words on his country’s nuclear weapons ambition, it seems to me that a “good deal” is not one that equates dismantling with mothballing. A “good deal” would prevent Iran from being able to get back to work on its nuclear weapons program from where it left off.

Second, despite diplomatic entreaties to the Iranians in recent years – where hands were extended and secret talks were pursued – Iran has grown its support and advocacy for terror.

The history of Iranian terror against U.S. citizens and interests is lengthy and robust, grounded in the view that the United States is the Great Satan — and it’s funding and support of Hezbollah that has carried out attacks against American interests.

241 American servicemen died in the 1983 Marine Corps barracks bombing in Lebanon, 19 in Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.

In recent years, we’ve traced responsibility for lethal actions against American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to Iran, as well as the fortunately thwarted attack on the Saudi Ambassador at a Washington restaurant in 2011.

Today, Iran is actively sponsoring a proxy war in Syria sending money, weapons and fighters on a weekly basis.
Simultaneously, it is sponsoring attacks against Sunnis in Iraq and promoting regional sectarian violence that could easily result in a broader regional conflict.

While smiling at our negotiators across the table, they are simultaneously plotting in the backroom.

With all of this in mind, I believe in the wisdom of the prospective sanctions I proposed. I believe in the lessons of history that tell us Iran cannot be trusted to live up to its word without external pressure. I believe that an insurance policy that guards against Iranian obfuscation and deception is the best way forward.

My legislation – cosponsored by 59 Senators – would simply require that Iran act in good faith, adhering to the implementing agreement, not engage in new acts of terror against American citizens or U.S, property — and not conduct new ballistic missile tests with a range beyond 500 kilometers.

The legislation is not the problem. Congress is not the problem. Iran is the problem. We need to worry about Iran, not the Congress.

We need to focus on Iran’s long history of deception surrounding its nuclear program and how this should inform our approach to reaching a comprehensive deal.

To those who believe that — if negotiations do not result in a deal or if Iran breaks the deal — we can always impose new sanctions then let me be clear: if negotiations fail, or if Iran breaks the deal, we won’t have time to pass new sanctions.
New sanctions are not a spigot that can be turned off-and-on as has been suggested.

Even if Congress were to take-up and pass new sanctions at the moment of Iran’s first breach of the Joint Plan of Action, there is a lag time of at least 6 months to bring those sanctions on line — and at least a year for the real impact to be felt.
This would bring us beyond the very short-time Iran would need to build a nuclear bomb, especially since the interim agreement does not require them neither to dismantle anything, and freezes their capability as it stands today.

So let everyone understand – if there is no deal we won’t have time to impose new sanctions before Iran could produce a nuclear weapon.

Everyone agrees that the comprehensive sanctions policy against Iran – which was led by Congress and originally opposed by the Administration — has been an unquestionable, success.

Iran’s oil exports fell to 1.1 million barrels a day in the first 9 months of 2013 – down from 1.5 million barrels in 2012.
The fall in exports was costing Iran between $4 billion and $8 billion a month in 2013 and the loss of oil revenue had caused the rial to lose two-thirds of its value against the dollar, and caused inflation to rise to more than 40 percent.
There is no dispute or disagreement that it was the economic impact of sanctions that has brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place.

But passing those sanctions and having them in place long enough to be effective took time we no longer have.
The question now is whether our goals align. Has the ideology of the regime altered so substantially in the last 6 months that they are suddenly ready to forswear a 20 year effort to develop nuclear weapons or are they, as the Supreme leader has stated, seeking to beat us at the game of diplomacy – “to negotiate with the Devil to eliminate its evil” — and retain their nuclear threshold and enriching abilities while degrading the sanctions regime.

And let’s not forget that it’s the Ayatollah who holds the nuclear portfolio and his main goal is preservation of the regime.

It is the Ayatollah who gave the green light to Rouhani to negotiate. Why? Because the sanctions were causing the Ayatollah to be concerned about regime change taking place within Iranian society due to the sanctions’ consequences on the Iranian economy. Now, who benefits from the sanctions relief? The Ayatollah, according to a Reuters story with the title: “Khamenei’s business empire gains from Iran sanctions relief.”

I have worked on Iran’s nuclear issues for 20 years, starting when I was a member of the House pressing for sanctions to prevent Iran from building the Bushehr nuclear power plant and to halt IAEA support for their uranium mining and enrichment programs.

For a decade I was told that my concern had no basis — that Iran would never be able to bring the Bushehr plant on line, and that Iran’s activities were not a concern.

History has shown us that those assessments — about Iran’s abilities and intentions — were simply wrong.
The fact is Iran’s nuclear aspirations did not materialize overnight.

Iran has been slowly, methodically working up to this moment for decades – and now, if its capability is mothballed rather than dismantled – they will remain at the cusp of becoming a declared nuclear state should they chose to start again because nothing will have changed if nothing is dismantled.

Make no mistake — Iran views developing a nuclear capability as fundamental to its existence.

It sees the development of nuclear weapons as part of a regional hegemonic strategy to make Tehran the center of power throughout the region.

This is why our allies and partners in the region – not just Israelis, but the Emiratis and the Saudis — are so skeptical and so concerned.

Quite simply our allies and partners do not trust Iranian leaders, nor do they believe that Iran has any intention of verifiably ending its nuclear weapons program.

So, while I welcome diplomatic efforts, and I share the hope that the Administration can achieve a final comprehensive agreement that eliminates this threat to global peace and security, I am deeply – deeply skeptical.

The simple and deeply troubling fact is — Iran is literally weeks to months away from breakout, and the parameters of the final agreement — laid out in the Joint Plan of Action — do not appear to set Iran’s development-capacity back by more than a few weeks.

The Joint Plan of Action conceded, even before negotiations had even begun, Iran’s right to some level of enrichment despite a U.N. resolution calling for Iran to suspend enrichment.

It provides no guarantees that we’ll resolve our concerns about Iranian weaponization activities, that Iran will cease advanced centrifuge research, that the IAEA will gain access to the Parchin military base, that Iran will dismantle thousands of centrifuges, or that the Iranians will disclose the scope of their activities.

It suggests that the resolution for the Arak heavy-water reactors, which can provide a quicker plutonium pathway to nuclear weapons, may be to put it under IAEA safeguards, rather than requiring its dismantlement.

We don’t have time for Iran to hedge and obfuscate.

There should be no chance for Iran to buy more time, which, in effect, leaves us exactly where we are – just hitting a pause-button — with the state of play unchanged and Iran weeks from breakout.

To me, that’s a bad agreement and, in my view, we should be negotiating from a position of strength – in the case of Iran, holding fast on economic sanctions and a credible threat of force should Iran proceed with its nuclear efforts.

Last Tuesday night, in the State of the Union, the President said: “If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.”

But I would point out to my colleagues that they did so from a position of strength. President Kennedy sent U.S. warships to face down the Soviets in Cuba, and Ronald Reagan dramatically built-up U.S. military might.
We need to negotiate with Iran from a position of strength.

The concerns I have raised here are legitimate. They are not – as the President’s press secretary has said – “war-mongering.” This is not saber rattling. It is not Congress wanting to “march to war,” as another White House spokeswoman said — but exactly the opposite.

At the end of the day, trying to keep the pressure on Iran to completely satisfy the UN’s — and the international community’s — demands for Iran to halt and reverse its illicit nuclear activities is the best way to avoid war in the first place.

Iran has proven in the past it won’t negotiate in good faith except when it has no other choice – as the tough sanctions we passed have proven by getting Iran to the table.

Iran says it won’t negotiate with a gun to its head.

Well, I would suggest it is Iran that has put a nuclear gun to the world’s head.

So, at the end of the day, name-calling is not an argument, nor is it sound policy.

It is a false choice to say a vote for sanctions is equivalent to war-mongering.

More pressure on Iran does not — in any way — suggest that Congress wants war, or that the Iranians feel backed into a corner and will – themselves — choose war over reason.

So let’s stop talking about war-mongering.

Let’s instead fixate on the final deal which, in my view, cannot and should not rely simply on trust, but on real, honest, verifiable dismantlement of Iran’s capability to produce even one nuclear bomb.

The ball is in the Administration’s court, not in Congress’.

In fact, the agreement specifically states: “The U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions.”

The agreement acknowledges that the Administration – not Congress – will refrain from imposing new sanctions.
The Administration knew it could not bind Congress to refrain from imposing new sanctions – because Congress is a separate co-equal branch of government.

So let’s focus on what was agreed to by those at the table rather than attributing blame to those who were not.
We will not be the scapegoats for a bad deal if it does not take the nuclear weapons option off the table by insisting on dismantling existing capability, not simply mothballing it.

Let me say, I want diplomacy to work. I want it to produce the results we all hope for and have worked for.
But, at a minimum, we need to send a message to Iran that our patience is not unlimited and that we are skeptical of their intentions.

And a message to the international community that the sanctions regime has not weakened, that this is not an opportunity to re-engage with Tehran.

I would urge everyone to look at the legislation I’ve drafted with my colleague from Illinois and members of both Caucuses as a win for the Administration.

They’ve succeeded in convincing us to provide up-to-a-year window to negotiate.

I believe that is significant and generous given Iran’s history of treachery and deceit.

If Iran’s steps away from the negotiations or does not live up to its agreement it will be because they aren’t serious about reaching a comprehensive deal.

I have heard the concerns of the Administration. I know we share the same goals.

And we have taken steps in the Foreign Relations Committee in pursuit of those goals.

We worked with them to pass legislation to help reform the Organization of American States.

We have moved 129 nominees.

We worked through Labor Day – in a bipartisan effort — to quickly pass a resolution authorizing the use of military force in Syria which gave the President the ability to go to Russia and get a deal to end the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

We passed — and the President signed PEPFAR into law – the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

We worked with the Administration on Embassy Security after Benghazi.

We worked with countless Administration officials and held two hearing on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In all of these instances, I have worked closely with the Administration.

And my intention now is to assist the Administration again in its negotiations by keeping the pressure on Iran which has always proven an unreliable negotiating partner at best.

In my view, it’s time to put Iranian rhetoric to the test. If we are to take President Rouhani at his word when he said in Davos last week that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons — if that’s true, then the Iranian government should not have any problems with the obvious follow-up to that claim – starting with the verifiable dismantling of its illicit nuclear infrastructure. That is all the sanctions legislation does.

We should settle for nothing less.

Let’s be clear, I do not come to this floor in opposition, I come in comity, and in the spirit of unity that has always dictated our foreign policy, but the Senate has an obligation to challenge assumptions in a free and open debate.
That is what is most extraordinary about our government and it echoes in the many debates that have been held in this Chamber on war and peace, on justice, freedom, and civil rights.

At the end of the day, we have an obligation to speak our minds in what we believe is in the best interest of this nation.
It is in that spirit that I come to the floor today.

As General George Marshall said, “Go right straight down the road, to do what is best, and to do it frankly and without evasion.” Today, I am advocating for what I believe is in our national interest, and doing as frankly on comprehensively as I can.

As John Kennedy said about having differences of opinion: “Let us not be blind to [them], but let us also direct our attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved.”

The Administration and the Senate have a common interest – to prevent a nuclear-weapons-capable-Iran. We have differences as to how to achieve it. We have an obligation to debate those differences and concerns. But I will not yield on a principled difference.

It is our obligation to debate the issues — express our differences and concerns — and come to this floor to work together to resolve them.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.


One Comment

  1. I suppose that if Menendez wasn’t in bed with AIPAC who carries the water for Netanyahoo, then I might consider his position. But considering that there is opposition in his and Kirks “Wag the Dog” bill, and perhaps he’s taking heat for trying to sabotage the process. That they overstepped their play, it’s time that the two senators realized just who/what they took a oath to uphold. They sure didn’t take one to uphold and back Israel/Netanyahoo, at least not in public. Selling ones office to a foreign government, regardless of where AIPAC gets its money from to spread around, is in my mind, a treasonous act, to which both of these senators as well as the others who are backers, should be terminated from office.

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