The PJ Tatler

Menendez, Corker Vow Congress Still Forging Better 'End Game' on Iran

Key Senate supporters of tougher sanctions against Iran conceded that it’s going to be a challenge to move a bill when the White House is pressuring Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to keep it off the floor, but vow to plunge ahead with it regardless.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said he was bothered by Jay Carney’s statement that congressional advocates of tougher sanctions were “somehow marching us off to war.”

That administration rhetoric, Menendez said, “was way over the top.”

“And so while we have heard naysayers in the past say, no, we shouldn’t pursue those sanctions, it seems to me that prospectively looking for sanctions that are invoked six months from the date of enactment — they give the president certain waivers — therefore creates the flexibility for diplomacy, also sends a message to Iran, as it has throughout this process, that there is a consequence if you don’t strike a successful deal and puts us in a position of having the insurance to have additional sanctions go into effect at that time, and at the same time gives the administration the flexibility to negotiate,” he said.

Ranking Member Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) stressed that concern over the nuclear deal with Iran “is felt in a very strong, bipartisan way.”

“It’s very difficult to understand that, at the height of our leverage — we had six — we have six countries negotiating and the world behind us, we negotiated a deal of this nature with not a single centrifuge being dismantled, all of them spinning in perpetuity for the next six months,” Corker said. “And I think that it’s hard to see how you get to a place that meets the standard that we would want to meet at the end. And so I’m very concerned, especially with this interim deal, how we get to a place where Iran is not enriching constantly or where they’re right on the verge, always, of being able to break out and create a nuclear weapon.”

“I have strong concerns about the proliferation that’s going to occur in the area as people see this rogue nation being dealt with in this manner and basically us validating them over the next six months.”

Menendez said he’s “concerned about some elements of the text that people haven’t focused on.”

“For example, already in that text as it relates to what is defined as a comprehensive solution, there is some suggestion that we are going to define what a mutually agreeable enrichment program is. So we’ve already ceded away from U.N. Security Council resolutions that say no enrichment,” he said. “Secondly there is the ability to extend this interim agreement and to deal with the U.N. Security Council resolutions. Well, unless you’re going to deal them away, I don’t know what there is to deal. The Security Council resolutions call for ceasing enrichment.”

“And, lastly, there is a provision here that envisions in a comprehensive solution a sunset clause that would say that after a period of time, which is not defined, that the Iranians would be treated as any non-nuclear weapons state. That means that they could, after that period of time, enrich uranium without any consequence and without any limitations. They could seek plutonium track without any limitations. Those are real concerns. So defining both what the end state is as well as having sanctions regime that is ready to go should the deal not fall through,” Menendez added.

Corker noted that the agreement doesn’t even address Iran’s ballistic testing issues.

“There’s so many issues in this next six months that are not addressed. As a matter of fact, some people have said Iran may wish to cheat over the next six months, I see no way that they’re going to want to cheat,” Corker continued. “This is a total victory from their standpoint. I think they’re going to be good actors over the next six months because they see an administration who led this negotiation, an administration that has already given tilt to allowing them do the things that the world community through the U.N. Security Council has already said they cannot do.”

“So I’m very discouraged and I hope we’re able to have a better end game than it looks like we’re going to have now. And I think Congress can help us get there.”

Both Menendez and Corker are members of the Group of 14 who are negotiating a new sanctions bill over recess. The Senate returns next Monday.