Loopholepalooza: Menendez Rips Holes in Iran Deal's 'Snapback,' Ballistic Missile Language and Iran Collecting Own Samples

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), having gone over the Iran nuclear deal with a fine-toothed comb, called out the Obama administration at today's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing for squishy language about the Islamic Republic's ballistic missile development.

He also unraveled the administration's assertion that sanctions will "snap back" with an Iran violation -- highlighting that there may be nothing left existing to "snap back" on.

"Under the sanctions heading of the agreement, paragraph 26 says, and I quote, 'the United States administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the president and the Congress, will refrain from reintroducing or reimposing sanctions specified in annex 2,' which is basically the sanctions that this committees and the Congress passed, that has ceased applying under the JPOA," Menendez said. "So Secretary Lew, I read that to mean that we cannot reintroduce or reimpose the existing sanctions that Congress passed into law."

The Treasury secretary danced around the question, replying "we have been very clear that we retain our right and we will, if we need to, reimpose sanctions."

"I'm talking about existing nuclear sanctions, which expire next year, if snapback provisions of the sanctions are to be an effective deterrent as the administration has suggested of Iranians breaking the agreement, will the administration agree to support the reauthorization of the existing sanctions that passed the Senate 99-0, and which expire next year? Yes or no?" Menendez asked.

"So let me be clear that the sanctions that are being lifted, if Iran complies, if they comply, we said we would not reimpose nuclear sanctions if they live with the nuclear agreement," Lew replied.

"I know. But my point is this. If you're going to snap back, you got to snap back to something... If, in fact, the sanctions which exist that you all heralded and said brought Iran to the table expire next year, 2016, and we don't reauthorize it, there is nothing at least in that context to snap back to," the senator stressed. "So why won't you simply say that the administration supports, under all the same provisions, including the president's waivers, the reauthorization of those sanctions so that the Iranians know if they violate that the snapback will also include snapback to what the Congress passed?"

Lew said "if Iran complies, we will lift sanctions and it's premature to talk about extending a law" -- even one that expires next year.

Menendez then turned his focus to Secretary of State John Kerry and "the lifting of the arms embargo that creeped its way into this deal."

"As I read the Security Council resolution on page 119, the ban on Iranian ballistic missiles has, in fact, been lifted. The new Security Council resolution is quite clear. Iran is not prohibited from carrying out ballistic missile work. The resolution merely says, quote, 'Iran is called upon not to undertake such activity,'" he said. "Now previously, in Security Council Resolution 1929, the council used mandatory language where it said, quote, 'It decides that Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.'"

"Why would we accept inferior language that changes the mandatory 'shall' to a permissive 'call upon'? We often call upon a lot of countries to do or stop certain actions in the U.N., but it doesn't have the force of shall not which has consequences if you do. Can you answer simply, is Iran banned from ballistic missile work for the next eight years?"

Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) dryly interjected, "No."

"Do you want to answer it, senator?" Kerry snapped.

"Yes, I will," Corker shot back.

Kerry argued that Menendez wasn't reading the resolution correctly and it includes "the same language as is in the embargo now -- we transferred it to this and that's what it is."

"Not the same language as Security Council resolution 1929," Menendez replied. "I don't know why you wouldn't just keep the same language, which is that you 'shall not.'"

The senator grilled Kerry on whether Iran will be taking its own samples to submit for compliance testing -- "the equivalent of the fox guarding the chicken coop."

"It's part of a confidential agreement between the IAEA and Iran as to how they do that," Kerry said. "The IAEA has said they are satisfied they will be able to do this in a way that does not compromise their needs and that adequately gets the answers they need... I'm not confirming how it's happening, I'm simply saying to you that we're confident the IAEA has the ability to be able to get the answers they need."

Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) earlier brought up the testing, noting that they agreed not to personally collect test samples at the secretive Parchin military complex.

"They're going to be able to test by themselves. Even the NFL wouldn't go along with this," Risch said. "How in the world can you have a nation like Iran doing their own testing?"

Menendez also stopped Kerry before the secretary reiterated that all options are on the table, "because I think if you talk to our intelligence people, they will tell you that Iran does not believe there's a credible military threat."