Sen. Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) long-awaited decision on the Iran nuclear deal is in: No.
“Every several years or so a legislator is called upon to cast a momentous vote in which the stakes are high and both sides of the issue are vociferous in their views,” the next leader of the Senate Dems wrote in a lengthy statement released tonight.
Schumer stressed he spent the past three weeks “carefully studying the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, reading and re-reading the agreement and its annexes, questioning dozens of proponents and opponents, and seeking answers to questions that go beyond the text of the agreement but will have real consequences that must be considered.”
“Advocates on both sides have strong cases for their point of view that cannot simply be dismissed. This has made evaluating the agreement a difficult and deliberate endeavor, and after deep study, careful thought and considerable soul-searching, I have decided I must oppose the agreement and will vote yes on a motion of disapproval.”
That’s not good news for the White House, as senators have predicted that, as an instrumental swing vote, Schumer could pull other members of the caucus in a certain direction.
“In making my decision, I examined this deal in three parts: nuclear restrictions on Iran in the first ten years, nuclear restrictions on Iran after ten years, and non-nuclear components and consequences of a deal. In each case I have asked: are we better off with the agreement or without it?” the senator said.
“In the first ten years of the deal, there are serious weaknesses in the agreement. First, inspections are not ‘anywhere, anytime’; the 24-day delay before we can inspect is troubling. While inspectors would likely be able to detect radioactive isotopes at a site after 24 days, that delay would enable Iran to escape detection of any illicit building and improving of possible military dimensions (PMD) — the tools that go into building a bomb but don’t emit radioactivity,” Schumer continued. “Furthermore, even when we detect radioactivity at a site where Iran is illicitly advancing its bomb-making capability, the 24-day delay would hinder our ability to determine precisely what was being done at that site.”
“Even more troubling is the fact that the U.S. cannot demand inspections unilaterally. By requiring the majority of the 8-member Joint Commission, and assuming that China, Russia, and Iran will not cooperate, inspections would require the votes of all three European members of the P5+1 as well as the EU representative. It is reasonable to fear that, once the Europeans become entangled in lucrative economic relations with Iran, they may well be inclined not to rock the boat by voting to allow inspections.”
Schumer also expressed the same concerns voiced by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) about unrealistic “snapback” sanctions. “If the U.S. insists on snapback of all the provisions, which it can do unilaterally, and the Europeans, Russians, or Chinese feel that is too severe a punishment, they may not comply,” he said.
He also objected to the 10-year length of the deal. “If Iran’s true intent is to get a nuclear weapon, under this agreement, it must simply exercise patience,” he said. “…To me, after ten years, if Iran is the same nation as it is today, we will be worse off with this agreement than without it.”
Schumer said he was given the “most pause” by the non-nuclear aspects that the administration has written off as secondary to forging the nuclear agreement: Iran’s terrorism and ballistic missile program.
“To reduce the pain of sanctions, the Supreme Leader had to lean left and bend to the moderates in his country,” he said. “It seems logical that to counterbalance, he will lean right and give the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and the hardliners resources so that they can pursue their number one goal: strengthening Iran’s armed forces and pursuing even more harmful military and terrorist actions.”
“…Using the proponents’ overall standard — which is not whether the agreement is ideal, but whether we are better with or without it — it seems to me, when it comes to the nuclear aspects of the agreement within ten years, we might be slightly better off with it. However, when it comes to the nuclear aspects after ten years and the non-nuclear aspects, we would be better off without it.”
Schumer said the ultimate test depends on “how one thinks Iran will behave under this agreement.”
“If one feels that Iranian leaders will not moderate and their unstated but very real goal is to get relief from the onerous sanctions, while still retaining their nuclear ambitions and their ability to increase belligerent activities in the Middle East and elsewhere, then one should conclude that it would be better not to approve this agreement,” he said. “…Who’s to say this dictatorship will not prevail for another ten, twenty, or thirty years?”
“To me, the very real risk that Iran will not moderate and will, instead, use the agreement to pursue its nefarious goals is too great,” Schumer continued. “Therefore, I will vote to disapprove the agreement, not because I believe war is a viable or desirable option, nor to challenge the path of diplomacy. It is because I believe Iran will not change, and under this agreement it will be able to achieve its dual goals of eliminating sanctions while ultimately retaining its nuclear and non-nuclear power. Better to keep U.S. sanctions in place, strengthen them, enforce secondary sanctions on other nations, and pursue the hard-trodden path of diplomacy once more, difficult as it may be.”
“For all of these reasons, I believe the vote to disapprove is the right one.”
Earlier in the day, New York’s other senator, Kirsten Gillibrand (D), said she’d vote for the deal even though she didn’t think it was great.
“There are legitimate and serious concerns about this deal. For example, I would have liked to see a period shorter than 24 days to resolve disputes over access for inspectors. The U.N. embargoes on the sales of arms and ballistic weapons to Iran should have remained in place permanently, instead of lapsing after five and eight years. Hostages remain in Iranian custody. We will have to work hard to fight Iran’s malign efforts to wreak havoc in the region. While all of these issues are important, no issue matters more than ensuring that the Iranian regime does not have a nuclear weapon at its disposal,” Gillibrand said.
“If we reject this deal, we do not have a viable alternative for preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Without a deal, and without inspectors on the ground, we will be left in the dark as Iran resumes its pursuit of a nuclear weapon, with only months to go before it could enrich enough fissile material for a bomb. Without a deal, our options will be limited to insufficient unilateral sanctions, an invasion with yet another massive and costly land war in the Middle East, or a bombing campaign that offers nothing more than short-term gain under the best-case scenario.”
Without naming names, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) stressed on CNN Thursday afternoon that the veto-proof success or failure of the vote hinged on “three key senators on the Democratic side.”
“Depending on which way they go I think [they] will sway a number of others… at this point I think it’s very fluid.”