Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) warned at a hearing on the Iran nuclear deal this morning that other countries are already forging “hedging strategies” because of weak U.S. policy in the region.
Menendez, who has been one of the harshest critics of the P5+1 interim agreement and its enforcement from President Obama’s own party, confirmed he holds “strong views on what I think that agreement should look like, and if we reach an agreement how we ensure Iranian compliance.”
The administration is barreling toward a July 20 deadline for a final agreement on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
Menendez stressed that any deal must eliminate the vast majority of Iran’s centrifuge cascades and LEU (low-enriched uranium), “which cannot mean leaving large stockpiles of LEU in oxide form that can be easily re-converted,” terminate Iran’s research and development efforts to create more advanced centrifuges; and “fundamentally” alter the internal infrastructure of the Arak facility, “not just powering it down to a lower mega-watt facility.”
“Together these elements must move the timeline for detectable breakout by Iran beyond a year,” the chairman continued, adding Iran must also be required to “come clean” about its program and allow full access to facilities in question and agree to inspections up to 20 years in the future.
“Any suspension of sanctions will require Iran to meet a series of clear benchmarks. There must be clear demarcations of what constitutes a breach, including implications for both nominal failure to comply and significant material breaches. Repercussions for a breach by Iran will be snapback provisions for sanctions. At the end of the day, the specifics of the agreement will not be worth the paper they are written on if Iran believes it can cheat without significant repercussions.”
Menendez said too much attention is being focused on whether there is a nuclear deal with Iran rather than what happens afterward.
“What are the strategic implications of a politically and economically resurgent Iran, and what are the goals of its leaders in the aftermath of such a deal? I personally doubt that the nuclear deal is part of broader Iranian aspiration for a rapprochement with the United States,” he said.
“In my view, ‘success’ will not be defined exclusively by whether or not we get a ‘good’ deal with Iran. The illicit nuclear program is only one pillar of much broader and equally troubling Iranian actions. Iranian support for terrorism goes back decades and, as we speak, Iran is actively cultivating terrorist networks and violent proxies across the region – in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen, the Palestinian territories and beyond.”
Menendez recently visited with Saudi and Emirati officials, and returned with the “clear” view that “our partners across the region are adopting hedging strategies toward Iran because U.S. commitment to the region is being actively questioned in light of our engagement with Iran and our hesitancy in Syria.”
“At the end of the day, we must remain cognizant of Iranian motivations in pursuing a deal – is it merely about sanctions relief for the leadership in Tehran? Or is this about a broader realignment that could have serious strategic implications for the multi-dimensional chess game being played across the Middle East?”