Stressing that his vote is “much greater and graver” than supporting President Obama or not, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) delivered his verdict of the Iran nuclear deal in an address at Seton Hall University’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations.
In short, not only will Menendez vote against the deal but will lend his voice and vote to override the White House veto.
Menendez said his analysis of the P5+1 agreement began with one question: “Why does Iran — which has the world’s fourth largest proven oil reserves, with 157 billion barrels of crude oil and the world’s second largest proven natural gas reserves with 1,193 trillion cubic feet of natural gas — need nuclear power for domestic energy?”
“While I have many specific concerns about this agreement, my overarching concern is that it requires no dismantling of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and only mothballs that infrastructure for 10 years. Not even one centrifuge will be destroyed under this agreement. Fordow will be repurposed, and Arak redesigned,” he said.
“…The deal enshrines for Iran, and in fact commits the international community to assisting Iran in developing an industrial-scale nuclear power program, complete with industrial scale enrichment. While I understand that this program will be subject to Iran’s obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, I think it fails to appreciate Iran’s history of deception in its nuclear program and its violations of the NPT. It will, in the long run, make it much harder to demonstrate that Iran’s program is not in fact being used for peaceful purposes because Iran will have legitimate reasons to have advanced centrifuges and a robust enrichment program. We will then have to demonstrate that its intention is dual-use and not justified by its industrial nuclear power program.”
Menendez noted how Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman danced around his question of reauthorizing sanctions legislation that expires next year, claiming it was “too early” to talk about discussing having something to “snap back” to in the event of an Iran violation.
So the senator took his question directly to the Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations, and got an answer on July 25: “It is clearly spelled out in the JCPOA that both the European Union and the United States will refrain from reintroducing or reimposing the sanctions and restrictive measures lifted under the JCPOA,” the Iranians told Menendez. “It is understood the reintroduction or reimposition, including through extension of the sanctions and restrictive measures will constitute significant nonperformance which would relieve Iran from its commitments in part or in whole.”
“Frankly, in my view, the overall sanctions relief being provided, given the Iranian’s understanding of restrictions on the reauthorization of sanctions, along with the lifting of the arms and missile embargo well before Iranian compliance over years is established, leaves us in a weak position, and – to me – is unacceptable,” Menendez said.
“If there is a fear of war in the region, it is fueled by Iran and its proxies and exacerbated by an agreement that allows Iran to possess an industrial-sized nuclear program, and enough money in sanctions relief to continue to fund its hegemonic intentions throughout the region. Imagine how a country like the United Arab Emirates – sitting just miles away from Iran across the straits of Hormuz feels after they sign a civilian nuclear agreement with the U.S., considered to be the gold standard, to not enrich or reprocess uranium? What do our friends think when we give our enemies a pass while holding them to the gold standard? Who should they trust?”
He proceeded to rip apart the inspections plan, noting that the administration argument that no other country expect Iraq “was subjected to anytime, anywhere inspections” neglects to recognize that “Iran’s defiance of the world’s position, as recognized in a series of U.N. Security Council Resolutions, does not make it ‘any other country.’”
“If the P5+1 had not achieved an agreement, would we be at war with Iran? I don’t believe that,” Menendez said of another administration argument — that it’s their deal or war.
He even provided a congressional path for the “better deal” that Obama swears doesn’t exist.
“We should direct the Administration to re-negotiate by authorizing the continuation of negotiations and the Joint Plan of Action – including Iran’s $700 million-a-month lifeline, which to date have accrued to Iran’s benefit to the tune of $10 billion, and pausing further reductions of purchases of Iranian oil and other sanctions pursuant to the original JPOA. I’m even willing to consider authorizing a sweetener – a one-time release of a predetermined amount of funds – as a good faith down payment on the negotiations.
We can provide specific parameters for the Administration to guide their continued negotiations and ensure that a new agreement does not run afoul of Congress. A continuation of talks would allow the re-consideration of just a few, but a critical few issues, including:
First, the immediate ratification by Iran of the Additional Protocol to ensure that we have a permanent international arrangement with Iran for access to suspect sites.
Second, a ban on centrifuge R&D for the duration of the agreement to ensure that Iran won’t have the capacity to quickly breakout, just as the U.N. Security Council Resolution and sanctions snapback is off the table.
Third, close the Fordow enrichment facility. The sole purpose of Fordow was to harden Iran’s nuclear program to a military attack. We need to close the facility and foreclose Iran’s future ability to use this facility. If Iran has nothing to hide they shouldn’t need to put it under a mountain.
Fourth, the full resolution of the ‘possible military dimensions’ of Iran’s program. We need an arrangement that isn’t set up to whitewash this issue. Iran and the IAEA must resolve the issue before permanent sanctions relief, and failure of Iran to cooperate with a comprehensive review should result in automatic sanctions snapback.
Fifth, extend the duration of the agreement. One of the single most concerning elements of the deal is its 10-15 year sunset of restrictions on Iran’s program, with off ramps starting after year eight. We were promised an agreement of significant duration and we got less than half of what we are looking for. Iran should have to comply for as long as they deceived the world’s position, so at least 20 years.
And sixth, we need agreement now about what penalties will be collectively imposed by the P5+1 for Iranian violations, both small and midsized, as well as a clear statement as to the so-called grandfather clause in paragraph 37 of the JCPOA, to ensure that the U.S. position about not shielding contracts entered into legally upon re-imposition of sanctions is shared by our allies.
At the same time we should: Extend the authorization of the Iran Sanctions Act which expires in 2016 to ensure that we have an effective snapback option; Consider licensing the strategic export of American oil to allied countries struggling with supply because Iranian oil remains off the market; Immediately implement the security measures offered to our partners in the Gulf Summit at Camp David, while preserving Israel’s qualitative military edge.
In addition, Menendez said, Obama should “unequivocally affirm and Congress should formally endorse a Declaration of U.S. Policy that we will use all means necessary to prevent Iran from producing enough enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb, as well as building or buying one, both during and after any agreement.”
He’s also not buying the administration argument that P5+1 partners won’t come back to the negotiating table, as they “will still be worried about Iran’s nuclear weapon desires and the capability to achieve it.”
“At this juncture it is important to note that, over history, Congress has rejected outright or demanded changes to more than 200 treaties and international agreements, including 80 that were multilateral,” he said.
Menendez slammed the deal as being based on hope, and “hope is part of human nature, but unfortunately it is not a national security strategy.”
“I know that the editorial pages that support the agreement would be far kinder, if I voted yes, but they largely also supported the agreement that brought us a nuclear North Korea… I will vote to disapprove the agreement and, if called upon, would vote to override a veto.”