Why I Will Vote Against the Iran Deal
By Senator Robert Menendez (D), New Jersey, excerpted from a speech made at Seton Hall University , August18, 2015
"For twenty three years as a member of the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations Committees, I have had the privilege of dealing with major foreign policy and national security issues. Many of those have been of a momentous nature. This is one of those moments.
"I come to the issue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [ed. JCPOA], with Iran, as someone who has followed Iran's nuclear ambition for the better part of two decades. I decide on whether to support or oppose an issue on the basis of whether, it is in my judgment, in the national interest and security of our country to do so.
"In this case a secondary, but important, question is what it means for our great ally—the State of Israel—and our other partners in the Gulf.
"Unlike President Obama's characterization of those who have raised serious questions about the agreement, or who have opposed it, I did not vote for the war in Iraq, I opposed it, unlike the Vice President and the Secretary of State, who both supported it. My vote against the Iraq war was unpopular at the time, but it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
"I also don't come to this question as someone, unlike many of my Republican colleagues, who reflexively oppose everything the President proposes. In fact, I have supported President Obama, according to Congressional Quarterly, 98 percent of the time in 2013 and 2014. My dear, late mother would have been happy if I had agreed with her 98 percent of the time—and I revered her.
"On key policies ranging from voting in the Finance Committee and on the Senate Floor for the Affordable Care Act, to Wall Street Reform, to supporting the President's Supreme Court Nominees and defending the Administration's actions on the Benghazi tragedy, his Pivot to Asia, shepherding the authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) to stop President Assad's use of chemical weapons, during the time I was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to so much more, I have been a reliable supporter of President Obama.
"But my support is not—and has not been driven by party loyalty, but rather by principled agreement, not political expediency. When I have disagreed it is also based on principled disagreement.
"The issue before the Congress in September is whether to vote to approve or disapprove the agreement struck by the President and our P5+1 partners with Iran. This is one of the most serious national security, nuclear nonproliferation, arms control issues of our time. It is not an issue of supporting or opposing the President. This issue is much greater and graver than that.
"For me, I have come to my decision after countless hours in hearings, classified briefings, and hours-and-hours of serious discussion and thorough analysis. I start my analysis with the question: Why does Iran—which has the world's fourth largest proven oil reserves, with 157 billion barrels of crude oil and the world's second largest proven natural gas reserves with 1,193 trillion cubic feet of natural gas—need nuclear power for domestic energy?
"We know that despite the fact that Iran claims their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, they have violated the international will, as expressed by various U.N. Security Council Resolutions, and by deceit, deception and delay advanced their program to the point of being a threshold nuclear state. It is because of these facts, and the fact that the world believes that Iran was weaponizing its nuclear program at the Parchin Military Base—as well as developing a covert uranium enrichment facility in Fordow, built deep inside of a mountain, raising serious doubts about the peaceful nature of their civilian program, and their sponsorship of state terrorism—that the world united against Iran's nuclear program.
Our Original Purpose: Dismantle Iran's Nuclear Infrastructure
"In that context, let's remind ourselves of the stated purpose of our negotiations with Iran: Simply put, it was to dismantle all—or significant parts—of Iran's illicit nuclear infrastructure to ensure that it would not have nuclear weapons capability at any time. Not shrink its infrastructure. Not limit it. But fully dismantle Iran's nuclear weapons capability.
"We said we would accommodate Iran's practical national needs, but not leave the region-and the world-facing the threat of a nuclear armed Iran at a time of its choosing. In essence, we thought the agreement would be roll-back-for-roll-back: you roll-back your infrastructure and we'll roll-back our sanctions.
"At the end of the day, what we appear to have is a roll-back of sanctions and Iran only limiting its capability, but not dismantling it or rolling it back. What do we get? We get an alarm bell should they decide to violate their commitments, and a system for inspections to verify their compliance. That, in my view, is a far cry from 'dismantling.'
"I recall in the early days of the Administration's overtures to Iran, asking Secretary of State, John Kerry, at a meeting of Senators, about dismantling Arak, Iran's plutonium reactor. His response was swift and certain. He said: 'They will either dismantle it or we will destroy it.'
"I remember that our understanding was that the Fordow facility was to be closed—that it was not necessary for a peaceful civilian nuclear program to have an underground enrichment facility. That the Iranians would have to come absolutely clean about their weaponization activities at Parchin and agree to promise anytime anywhere inspections.
"We now know all of that fell by the wayside. But what we cannot dismiss is that we have now abandoned our long-held policy of preventing nuclear proliferation and are now embarked—not on preventing nuclear proliferation—but on managing or containing it—which leaves us with a far less desirable, less secure, and less certain world order. So, I am deeply concerned that this is a significant shift in our nonproliferation policy, and about what it will mean in terms of a potential arms race in an already dangerous region.
"While I have many specific concerns about this agreement, my overarching concern is that it requires no dismantling of Iran's nuclear infrastructure and only mothballs that infrastructure for 10 years. Not even one centrifuge will be destroyed under this agreement. Fordow will be repurposed, and Arak redesigned.
"The fact is—everyone needs to understand what this agreement does and does not do so that they can determine whether providing Iran permanent relief in exchange for short-term promises is a fair trade.
"This deal does not require Iran to destroy or fully decommission a single uranium enrichment centrifuge. In fact, over half of Iran's currently operating centrifuges will continue to spin at its Natanz facility. The remainder, including more than 5,000 operating centrifuges and nearly 10,000 not yet functioning, will merely be disconnected and transferred to another hall at Natanz, where they could be quickly reinstalled to enrich uranium.
"And yet we, along with our allies, have agreed to lift the sanctions and allow billions of dollars to flow back into Iran's economy. We lift sanctions, but—even during the first 10 years of the agreement—Iran will be allowed to continue R&D activity on a range of centrifuges—allowing them to improve their effectiveness over the course of the agreement.
"Clearly, the question is: What do we get from this agreement in terms of what we originally sought? We lift sanctions, and—at year eight—Iran can actually start manufacturing and testing advanced IR-6 and IR-8 centrifuges that enrich up to 15 times the speed of its current models. At year 15, Iran can start enriching uranium beyond 3.67 percent—the level at which we become concerned about fissile material for a bomb. At year 15, Iran will have NO limits on its uranium stockpile.
Permanent Sanctions Relief for Temporary Limitations on Iran's Nuclear Program
"This deal grants Iran permanent sanctions relief in exchange for only temporary—temporary—limitations on its nuclear program—not a rolling-back, not dismantlement, but temporary limitations. At year ten, the UN Security Council Resolution will disappear along with the dispute resolution mechanism needed to snapback UN sanctions and the 24-day mandatory access provision for suspicious sites in Iran.
"The deal enshrines for Iran, and in fact commits the international community to assisting Iran in developing an industrial-scale nuclear power program, complete with industrial scale enrichment. While I understand that this program will be subject to Iran's obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, I think it fails to appreciate Iran's history of deception in its nuclear program and its violations of the NPT.
"It will, in the long run, make it much harder to demonstrate that Iran's program is not in fact being used for peaceful purposes because Iran will have legitimate reasons to have advanced centrifuges and a robust enrichment program. We will then have to demonstrate that its intention is dual-use and not justified by its industrial nuclear power program.
"What we get in return for removing sanctions is an inspection and verification regime of Iran's somewhat-diminished, but still existent nuclear program, for which we will have to depend on Iranian compliance and performance for years to come.
"A significant part of that performance is dictated by an Additional Protocol of the IAEA agreement that ensures access to suspect sites in a country. But Iran has agreed only to provisionally apply the Additional Protocol and only formally adopt it when Congress has abolished all sanctions. This could mean that if Iran has been sanctioned for violations of the agreement, Iran won't even have to seek ratification of the Additional Protocol until those sanctions have been lifted—regardless of Iran's full compliance.
"This is hardly an ironclad commitment on which to base our right to inspect suspicious facilities. Of course if the Iranians violate the agreement and try to make a dash for a nuclear bomb, our solace will be that we will have a year's notice instead of the present 3 months. So in reality we have purchased a very expensive alarm system. Maybe we'll have an additional nine months, but with much greater consequences in the enemy we might face at that time.
"But what happens in the interim? Within about a year of Iran meeting its initial obligations, Iran will receive sanctions relief to the tune of $100-150 billion in the release of frozen assets, as well as renewed oil sales of another million barrels a day, as well as relief from sectoral sanctions in the petrochemical, shipping, shipbuilding, port sectors, gold and other precious metals, and software and automotive sectors.
"Iran will also benefit from the removal of designated entities including major banks, shipping companies, oil and gas firms from the U.S. Treasury list of sanctioned entities.
* * *
'The U.S. Administration, acting consistently with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from re-introducing or reimposing sanctions specified in Annex II, that it has ceased applying under this JCPOA.'
"I repeat, we will have to refrain from reintroducing or reimposing the Iran Sanctions Act I authored—which expires next year—that acted significantly to
bring Iran to the table in the first place. In two hearings, I asked Treasury Secretary Lew and Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman whether we have the
right to reauthorize sanctions to have something to snapback to, and neither would answer the question, saying only that it was 'too early' to discuss
"But, I did get my answer from the Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations who, in a letter dated July 25, 2015, said:
'It is clearly spelled out in the JCPOA that both the European Union and the United States will refrain from reintroducing or reimposing the sanctions and restrictive measures lifted under the JCPOA. It is understood the reintroduction or reimposition, including through extension of the sanctions and restrictive measures will constitute significant nonperformance which would relieve Iran from its commitments in part or in whole.'
"If anything is a 'fantasy' about this agreement it is the belief that snapback, without congressionally-mandated sanctions, with EU sanctions gone, and companies from around the world doing permissible business in Iran, will have any real effect.
"The Administration cannot argue sanction policy both ways. Either they were effective in getting Iran to the negotiating table or they were not. Sanctions are either a deterrent to break-out, a violation of the agreement, or they are not.
* * *
"If there is a fear of war in the region, it is fueled by Iran and its proxies and exacerbated by an agreement that allows Iran to possess an industrial-sized nuclear program, and enough money in sanctions relief to continue to fund its hegemonic intentions throughout the region. Imagine how a country like the United Arab Emirates—sitting just miles away from Iran across the straits of Hormuz feels after they sign a civilian nuclear agreement with the U.S., considered to be the gold standard, to not enrich or reprocess uranium? What do our friends think when we give our enemies a pass while holding them to the gold standard? Who should they trust?
"Which brings me to another major concern with the JCPOA, namely the issue of Iran coming clean about the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program. For well over a decade, the world has been concerned about the secret weaponization efforts Iran conducted at the military base called Parchin.The goal that we have long sought, along with the international community, is to know what Iran accomplished at Parchin-not necessarily to get Iran to declare culpability—but to determine how far along they were in their nuclear weaponization program so that we know what signatures to look for in the future.
* * *
"With so much at stake, the IAEA -- after waiting over ten years to inspect Parchin, speak to Iranian nuclear scientists, and review additional materials and documents—are now told they will not have direct access to Parchin. The list of scientists the P5+1 wanted the IAEA to interview were rejected outright by Iran, and they are now given three months to do all of their review and analysis before they must deliver a report in December of this year. How the inspections and soil and other samples are to be collected are outlined in two secret agreements that the U.S. Congress is not privy to. The answer as to why we cannot see those documents, is because they have a confidentiality agreement between the IAEA and Iran, which they say 'is customary,' but this issue is anything but customary.
"If Iran can violate its obligations for more than a decade, it can't then be allowed to avail themselves of the same provisions and protections they violated in the first place. We have to ask: Why would our negotiators decide to negotiate access to other IAEA documents, but not these documents? Maybe the reason, as some members of Congress and public reports have raised, is because it will be the Iranians and not the IAEA performing the tests and providing the samples to be analyzed, which would be the equivalent of having an athlete accused of using performance enhancing drugs submit an unsupervised urine sample to the appropriate authority. Chain of custody doesn't matter when the evidence given to you is prepared by the perpetrator.
"So in five months, we seek to resolve a major issue that has taken the better part of a decade to have access to, and with a highly questionable inspection regime as a solution. And, according to an AP story of August 14th - and I quote:
'They say the agency will be able to report in December. But that assessment is unlikely to be unequivocal because chances are slim that Iran will present all the evidence the agency wants, or give it the total freedom of movement it needs to follow-up the allegations. Still, the report is expected to be approved by the IAEA's board, which includes the United States and other powerful nations that negotiated the July 14 agreement. They do not want to upend their July 14 deal, and will see the December report as closing the books on the issue.'
"It would seem to me that what we are doing is sweeping this critical issue under the rug.
"Secretary Kerry has said that, 'We have absolute knowledge with respect to the certain military activities they were engaged in,' yet, for years we have insisted on getting access to Parchin and acquiring the knowledge we need to know.
* * *
"Mark Dubowitz, the widely-respected sanctions expert from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has said:
'For Secretary Kerry to claim we have absolute knowledge of Iran's weaponization activities is to assume a level of U.S. intelligence capability that defies historical experience. That's why he, President Obama, Undersecretary Sherman and IAEA chief Amano all have made PMD resolution such an essential condition of any nuclear deal.'
"He goes on to say:
'The U.S. track record in detecting and stopping countries from going nuclear should make Kerry more modest in his claims and assumptions. The U.S. missed the Soviet Union, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. Washington underestimated Saddam's program in 1990. Then it overestimated his program in 2003 and went to war to stop a nonexistent WMD program.'
"It is precisely because of this track record that permitting Iran to have the size and scope of an industrialized nuclear program, permitted under the JCPOA is one of the great flaws of the agreement.
* * *
If Iran Cheats, What Are Our Options?
"The fact is—success is not a question of Iran's conforming and performing according to the agreement. If that was all that was needed—if Iran had abided by its commitments all along—we wouldn't be faced with this challenge now. The test of success must be—if Iran violates the agreement and attempts to break-out—how well we will be positioned to deal with Iran—at that point. Trying to reassemble the sanctions regime, including the time to give countries and companies notice of sanctionable activity, which had been permissible up to then, would take up most of the breakout time, assuming we could even get compliance after significant national and private investments had taken place. That indeed would be a 'fantasy.'
"So the suggestion of 'permanency' in stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon depends on 'performance.' Based on the long history of Iran's broken promises, defiance and violations, that is hopeful. Significant dismantlement, however, would establish 'performance,' and therefore eliminating the threat of the capability to develop a nuclear weapon would truly be permanent, and any attempt to rebuild that infrastructure would give the world far more time than one year.
"The President and Secretary Kerry have repeatedly said that the choice is between this agreement or war. I reject that proposition, as have most witnesses, including past and present Administration members involved in the Iran nuclear issue, who have testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and who support the deal but reject the binary choice between the agreement or war.
"If the P5+1 had not achieved an agreement, would we be at war with Iran? I don't believe that.
"For all those who have said they have not heard—from anyone who opposes the Agreement—a better solution, they're wrong. I believe there is a pathway to a better deal.
* * *
"We should direct the Administration to re-negotiate by authorizing the continuation of negotiations and the Joint Plan of Action—including Iran's $700 million-a-month lifeline, which to date have accrued to Iran's benefit to the tune of $10 billion, and pausing further reductions of purchases of Iranian oil and other sanctions pursuant to the original JPOA. I'm even willing to consider authorizing a sweetener—a one-time release of a predetermined amount of funds—as a good faith down payment on the negotiations.
"We can provide specific parameters for the Administration to guide their continued negotiations and ensure that a new agreement does not run afoul of Congress. A continuation of talks would allow the re-consideration of just a few, but a critical few issues, including:
"First, the immediate ratification by Iran of the Additional Protocol to ensure that we have a permanent international arrangement with Iran for access to suspect sites.
"Second, a ban on centrifuge R&D for the duration of the agreement to ensure that Iran won't have the capacity to quickly breakout, just as the U.N. Security Council Resolution and sanctions snapback is off the table.
"Third, close the Fordow enrichment facility. The sole purpose of Fordow was to harden Iran's nuclear program to a military attack. We need to close the facility and foreclose Iran's future ability to use this facility. If Iran has nothing to hide they shouldn't need to put it under a mountain.
"Fourth, the full resolution of the 'possible military dimensions' of Iran's program. We need an arrangement that isn't set up to whitewash this issue. Iran and the IAEA must resolve the issue before permanent sanctions relief, and failure of Iran to cooperate with a comprehensive review should result in automatic sanctions snapback.
"Fifth, extend the duration of the agreement. One of the single most concerning elements of the deal is its 10-15 year sunset of restrictions on Iran's program, with off ramps starting after year eight. We were promised an agreement of significant duration and we got less than half of what we are looking for. Iran should have to comply for as long as they deceived the world's position, so at least 20 years.
"And sixth, we need agreement now about what penalties will be collectively imposed by the P5+1 for Iranian violations, both small and midsized, as well as a clear statement as to the so-called grandfather clause in paragraph 37 of the JCPOA, to ensure that the U.S. position about not shielding contracts entered into legally upon re-imposition of sanctions is shared by our allies.
"At the same time we should: Extend the authorization of the Iran Sanctions Act which expires in 2016 to ensure that we have an effective snapback option; Consider licensing the strategic export of American oil to allied countries struggling with supply because Iranian oil remains off the market; Immediately implement the security measures offered to our partners in the Gulf Summit at Camp David, while preserving Israel's qualitative military edge.
"Whether or not the supporters of the agreement admit it, this deal is based on 'hope'—hope that when the nuclear sunset clause expires Iran will have succumbed to the benefits of commerce and global integration. Hope that the hardliners will have lost their power and the revolution will end its hegemonic goals. And hope that the regime will allow the Iranian people to decide their fate.
"Hope is part of human nature, but unfortunately it is not a national security strategy.
"The Iranian regime, led by the Ayatollah, wants above all to preserve the regime and its Revolution, unlike the Green Revolution of 2009. So it stretches incredulity to believe they signed on to a deal that would in any way weaken the regime or threaten the goals of the Revolution.
"I understand that this deal represents a trade-off, a hope that things may be different in Iran in ten-15 years. Maybe Iran will desist from its nuclear ambitions. Maybe they'll stop exporting and supporting terrorism. Maybe they'll stop holding innocent Americans hostage. Maybe they'll stop burning American flags. And maybe their leadership will stop chanting, "Death to America" in the streets of Tehran. Or maybe they won't.
"I know that, in many respects, it would be far easier to support this deal, as it would have been to vote for the war in Iraq at the time. But I didn't choose the easier path then, and I'm not going to now. I know that the editorial pages that support the agreement would be far kinder, if I voted yes, but they largely also supported the agreement that brought us a nuclear North Korea.
"At moments like this, I am reminded of the passage in John F. Kennedy's book, 'Profile in Courage,' where he wrote:
"'The true democracy, living and growing and inspiring, puts its faith in the people - faith that the people will not simply elect men who will represent their views ably and faithfully, but will also elect men (and I would parenthetically add woman) who will exercise their conscientious judgment—faith that the people will not condemn those whose devotion to principle leads them to unpopular courses, but will reward courage, respect honor, and ultimately recognize right.'
"'In whatever arena in life one may meet the challenges of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience—the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men—each man must decide for himself the course he will follow. The stories of past courage can define that ingredient—they can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul.'
"I have looked into my own soul and my devotion to principle may once again lead me to an unpopular course, but if Iran is to acquire a nuclear bomb, it will not have my name on it.
"It is for these reasons that I will vote to disapprove the agreement and, if called upon, would vote to override a veto.
"Thank you. May God Bless these United States of America."