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Menendez: 'Russia is Not a Partner for Stability or Peace,' Especially in Syria

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) speaks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2018 Policy Conference at the Washington Convention Center on March 6, 2018. (Ron Sachs/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

WASHINGTON — Senate Foreign Relations Committee Raking Member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) warned this morning that Iran “is building an advanced military presence in Syria,” and the United States risks “willfully disregarding this reality if we cling to a repeatedly failing policy of ‘negotiating’ with Russia.”

“That is precisely what we are doing if we continue to seek out agreements to ‘de-escalate areas’ in Syria. These agreements with Russia are dangerous – they are in fact paving the way for Iran to stay in Syria,” he said. “That’s why it’s well past time for the president to recognize that in Syria, here at home, or around the world, Russia is not a partner for stability or peace.”

Speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, the longtime pro-Israel advocate in Congress said all activists are “clear-eyed and fully-aware of the challenging times in which we live.”

“We’ve seen anti-Semitism, white nationalism, and other insidious breeds of hatred on the rise, from the streets of Charlottesville to the capitals of Europe. We’ve seen ever-increasing volatility in the Middle East and a refugee crisis unseen since World War II. And we’ve seen Iranian aggression throughout the region, propelling terrorist proxies ever closer to Israel’s borders,” he said. “As we confront these challenges together, as we do so, I continue to be guided by my belief that it is in the best interests of the United States to have a strong, unwavering alliance with the State of Israel. The one true democracy in a sea of autocracy. A steadfast security ally of the United States. A nation of incredible innovation and economic sway. And the country most likely to be voting in common cause with the United States in international forums.”

Menendez stressed that the regime in Tehran “views the Syrian battlefield as a laboratory for training Iranian proxy forces devoted to a singular mission: Israel’s destruction.”

“And we know that Russia has helped enable Iran’s expansion in Syria by prolonging Assad’s grip on power. Hand in hand, criminal and terrorist, Putin and Assad have cleared a path for the Iranian regime to expand its military footprint,” he continued. “Russia has made its allegiances clear with its slaughter of civilians, dropping bombs on hospitals, on homes, on humanitarian aid convoys working to care for a people under siege. And Putin continues to exploit the migration crisis to sow discord throughout Western Europe and continue his campaign to undermine the post-World II international order. The links between Moscow and Tehran and Damascus are crystal clear.”

The senator added that “without American leadership” there might be “no international response to the Russian-backed Iranian entrenchment in Syria.”

“We must be unequivocal in our support for our allies. We must assert our global leadership, driven by our principles, values and security. We cannot cede this leadership to our adversaries. We must stop wasting time testing Russia’s resolve on Iran,” he said. “Indeed, President Putin is happy to keep this administration wringing its hands while Iran moves in next door to Israel. My friends, this situation is untenable and absolutely unacceptable. As Iran grows its footprint in Syria, and battle-hardened fighters return to Lebanon, we know that Lebanese Hezbollah continues to build new missile production facilities and advanced weapons it plans to direct at Israel.”

“In the face of this growing threat, it’s no wonder there’s increasing talk in Israel of the ‘next war.’ This is not a war that Israel wants, but she may nonetheless be forced to fight it.”

Menendez, who voted against the Iran nuclear deal, said his “concerns remain” about the pact and “no one should be surprised that the JCPOA did not suddenly transform Iran into a responsible member of the international community.”

He said the U.S. needs to “immediately develop a comprehensive, coherent strategy to address Iran’s destabilizing behavior, including its non-nuclear asymmetrical activities, while simultaneously working to address our long-term concerns about its nuclear program.”

“The U.S. has leverage right now, and I want the administration to use it. Iran must understand that the United States and our partners will not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. Not now, not ever,” the senator emphasized.

Menendez advocated “a fully-funded, skilled, and experienced diplomatic corps” to rein in Iran, pushing back against cuts to the State Department.

“We’ve seen anti-Semitism creep into political discourse across the world. On display in squares and streets we could never have imagined it would again find a home. Last month we watched with horror as Poland passed a law criminalizing the act of acknowledging that Poles had a role collaborating with the German Third Reich. This is a gross attempt to rewrite history, one that risks denying the past, the suffering of millions, and stoking anti-Semitic hatred,” he said. “…With hatred and bigotry on the rise worldwide, with refugee numbers not seen since World War II, with actual Nazis running for Congress in Illinois, it’s hard not to harken back to the darkest period of the last century.”

He was referring to Arthur Jones, the only Republican on the ballot in Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District, a former leader of the American Nazi Party, a white supremacist and anti-Semite, and current leader of a group called the America First Committee.

“We will not shrink in the face of growing threats against our cherished ally. We will not be silent in the face of a rising tide of anti-Semitism here at home or abroad,” Menendez told the AIPAC crowd. “And we will not be deterred by those who try to drive a partisan wedge between us. We will stand united against those foreign adversaries who seek the destruction of Israel. And together we will show the world the United States stands by the right of the Israeli people to live peacefully and securely in their homeland.”