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Bridget Johnson

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March 4, 2014 - 8:25 am

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee got some of the loudest applause at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington for stressing how he’d bucked the Democratic Party in pushing for Iran sanctions.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) has continued his push for the bill co-authored with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) despite other Democratic Senate chairmen agreeing to not pursue sanctions at President Obama’s behest.

“When it comes to Iran, I have stood with you and have stood against so many in my own party,” Menendez told the AIPAC crowd this morning, receiving a sustained standing ovation in return.

“For a decade, I was told that my concerns had no legitimate basis, that Iran would never be able to bring the Bushehr plant on line and that Iran’s nuclear activities were not the most major concern. History has shown us that those assessments about Iran’s abilities and intentions were simply wrong then, and I believe they are wrong today. If past is prologue, I’m skeptical of Iran keeping its promises,” the senator continued.

“It is clear that the only intense, punishing economic pressure influences Iranian leaders. So we must keep the pressure on. We must not let them obstruct and we can’t let them obfuscate and delay their way to dismantling the sanctions that we have worked together to build to bring them to the table to get to the point of making sure they never have the ability to create one nuclear bomb!”

Menendez confessed that what troubles him about the current diplomatic process “is that the international community seems to want any deal more than it wants a good deal.”

“We cannot let the international sanctions regime unravel before we have that better deal that verifiably dismantles Iran’s ability to produce highly enriched uranium, a deal that fully addresses the weaponization aspects of Iran’s nuclear program,” he said. “The problem is, is that the mere possibility that sanctions might be lifted has already brought a rush of business delegations to Tehran.”

Based on “the parameters described in the joint plan of action and all I’ve heard in briefings and recent Iranian actions,” he added, “I am very concerned.”

“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, let me be very clear. If negotiations fail or if Iran breaks the deal, we may not have time to pass new sanctions. New sanctions are not a spigot that can be turned on and off, as suggested.” The Obama administration has continually been asserting this in pressuring Congress to back off.

“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 or if they do not reach an agreement that is acceptable, there will be a lag time of six months to bring those sanctions on line and at least a year for the real impact to be felt,” Menendez continued. “And this would bring us, according to scientists that have testified before our committee, beyond the very short time that Iran would need to build a nuclear bomb, especially since the interim agreement does not require them to dismantle anything. It basically freezes their capability as it stands today.”

“…The fact is, Iran is simply looking to lock the door on its nuclear weapons program, and should they walk away later from the deal, as they have in the past, they can simply unlock the door and continue their nuclear weapons program from where they are today. And if that sounds familiar, it should. It sounds a lot like North Korea.”

The chairman stressed that “the United States must be the one to step up to help to protect the Israeli people and counter the threat that would be posed by a nuclear Iran.”

“If we are to take President Rouhani’s word that he said in Davos 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 seeks. I don’t believe we should settle for anything less. Do any of you believe we should settle for anything less?”

The audience shouted “no” in reply.

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

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All Comments   (15)
All Comments   (15)
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Menendez should stick to what he knows best - fifteen year old Dominican prostitutes.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Re:
".....second, we are AWOL in the three-way Muslim civil war (radical Khomeneists vs. radical MB types vs. traditional régimes) and in supporting the minority of truly moderate Muslims."

We should remain AWOL in these shifting Muslim nasty civil wars. Their subtleties and labyrinthine entanglements crossing caste, family, sect and generational lines make our Hatfields-and McCoys feud read like a "Child's Garden Of Verses".

Look at Maliki and Karzai.....playing us for fools in their separate ways. All they want is more no-strings American cash.

Let 'em butcher each other. We Americans simply aren't equipped to make situational Muslim-centered judgement calls. That's a compliment.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thanks for the feedback.

I respectfully disagree. Iraq was on course to be a pro-US, moderate state and thorn in the side of Iran w/a governing coalition of Sunnis, moderate/traditioanl Shia and Kurds circa rica 2008 when BHO pulled the rug out from things (see the account in Endgame). The result was Maliki. We could have had a platform from which to subvert Iran but instead Iran has a pipeline to Syria.

Karzai is a pain and supposedly crazy, but I'd also be po'd if BHO was leaving me and my associates to the fate of Najibullah.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sorry...wrong position here...this is a "Reply" to new MarkH's comment nearby.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Why isn't he in jail?
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
This Menendez got his talk started with a very out of place and awkward introduction in fluent sounding Spanish as if it was our first language, then he tried to make light of that in an equally awkward manner......playing to his Latino constituency at the AIPAC Conference? Is there such a thing?

Then he expounded a very articulate defense of his own apparent anti-Democrat party positions on the Middle East. In other words, he sounded pretty good. After hearing more of his "other words', this Menendez is a real politician, but if he acts according to his seemingly agreeable words in his talk before the AIPAC, which surely can hold his feet to the fire, then the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman may be worth listening to in the future.

Only Time will tell.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
I believe he opened in Spanish as a nod to the Hispanic outreach push AIPAC highlighted during the conference. A couple of speakers before Menendez, for instance, a Latina union leader was talking about her pro-Israel conversion and how many Hispanic Dems think you should automatically side with Palestinians, etc.

Menendez has been consistent on Iran both in committee hearings and behind the scenes, very much irritating the administration. His dissent seems to be only growing, making this dynamic all the more interesting.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Bridget - Thanks for your thorough coverage of Iran.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thanks for the kind comment!
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Linus,

You wrote, "...if he acts according to his seemingly agreeable words in his talk before the AIPAC, which surely can hold his feet to the fire, then the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman may be worth listening to in the future"

With all due respect, the record shows that Menendez has indeed "walked the walked". For me, the most notable was his very public grilling of administration officials before the SFRC regarding Iran during the 2012 election year. He gave the Republican's their talking points (which they mostly flubbed).

I would submit that the problem is not so much whether AIPAC is willing to hold Menendez’s feet to the fire but whether they are willing to do the same to less statesmanlike Democrats. Press reports indicate that it was AIPAC rather than Menendez who folded on the recent push for sanctions legislation. I disagree/Menendez on almost every other issue, but I have met him and his staff on many occasions and believe that, on this issue, he is passionate and sincere.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thank you, I wanted to hear something like that.

But I've grown leery over the years. Politicians lead a fence -walking life, sometimes right straight along the fence-line, sometimes balancing on top like a tight-rope, then falling off to one side or another. Wherever those magnet votes seem to be pulling.

Netanyahu, speaking American accented English [Philadelphia?] was a contrasting pleasure to listen to. He would always have my vote. Good grief!.......Imagine him sitting in our Oval Office, that stark contrast with that crass Obama creation? ........Also no stranger to the tragedies surrounding Israel. Didn't he lose a brother at the Israeli action at Entebbe [?] some years ago.....cannot imagine Netanyahu sitting on any fence anywhere. He's all "up front".

I suspect any duplicity on his part quickly turns out to be pretty much transparent. Again, contrast Netanyahu with that sad but arrogant chameleon Obama.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hi Linus,

Netanyahu did grow up in Cheltenham, a suburb of Philly, but most Philadelphians (think Rocky) aren't eloquent as him in either Hebrew or English. His brother, Yoni, was killed leading ground forces at Entebbe. Herman Wouk (author of The Caine Mutiny and Winds of War) edited a wonderful edition of Yoni’s letters. There is a memorial to Yoni in Center City Philadelphia. Like Yoni, Bibi served in the Israeli SoF. Their father, Ben Zion Netanyahu, was a distinguished historian and personal secretary to Ze’ev Jabotinsky a famous early Zionist pioneer who, unlike many of Israel’s founders, had a pro-free market philosophy.

Bibi earned a BS and MS from MIT and was previously a successful high tech management consultant in Boston (where he associated with venture capitalist Mitt Romney) high tech and successful finance minister and UN ambassador for Israel. He is the author of well-regarded policy books on terrorism and Israel (compare with BHO’s early career).

Although I disagree w/Menendez on most other issues I give him great credit for his stand on Iran. I assume he gets some political support/contributions for his stand, but the fact is that he’s out front of most members of the Senate (Democrat or Republican) on this and could presumably acquire political support/contributions in a less painful manner.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Superb background and leadership credentials for Netanyahu.....I'd only a vague acquaintance......thanks again.......all readers here should carefully review Netanyahu's jaw-dropping differences in qualifications as a Head of State compared with our ....words escape me.....current offal occupant of OUR Oval Office inside OUR White House. Absolutely laughable ironies all over the place in such a sad way when the geography and material assets of Israel and our U.S.A. are compared.

Spiritual assets are of course reversed.

We're really in one helluva mess.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The Obama administration has continually been asserting this in pressuring Congress to back off."
There is something so corrupt and sinister in this current administration regarding all things Islam; that it is deeply troubling and smacks of betrayal.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Actually, the Saudis, Jordanians, Egyptians (all Muslims, last I checked) have indicated their dismay w/respect to Obama’s policy of rapprochement w/the Iranian régime. Millions of Iranians have put their lives on the line in the streets to indicate the same.

IMHO, the problem is twofold: first, a marriage of the foreign policy elite fantasy of rapprochement w/the mullahs to the anti-Americanism/internationalism of the new elite personified by Obama; and, second, we are AWOL in the three-way Muslim civil war (radical Khomeneists vs. radical MB types vs. traditional régimes) and in supporting the minority of truly moderate Muslims. There is a chance for stability and gradual moderation in the Muslim world if we return to our old policy of supporting the traditionalists and then go on the offensive against the radicals.

Sunni vs. Shia is important, but Sunni radicals will align w/the Khomenei-ists, if needs be (see the Egyptian MB, Hamas and AQ as discused in the 9-11 commission report).
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
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