Menendez: 'I Have Stood Against So Many in My Own Party' on Iran

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.