The most comprehensive argument against the deal on Iran’s nuclear programme has come from one of President Obama’s most loyal supporters. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has voted for 98% of Obama’s policies, but will oppose the deal when it is put to the vote in Congress late next month.
He has set out his case in a lengthy speech to Seton Hall University’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations. The W&Y reproduces the key passages below, they are about 1/6th of the speech which can be found in full here in both video and text form.
Senator Menendez first sets out his bone fides as a Democrat and supporter of the President –
“Unlike President Obama’s characterization of those who have raised serious questions about the agreement, or who have opposed it, I did not vote for the war in Iraq, I opposed it, unlike the Vice President and the Secretary of State, who both supported it….I also don’t come to this question as someone, unlike many of my Republican colleagues, who reflexively oppose everything the President proposes…but my support is not – and has not been driven by party loyalty, but rather by principled agreement, not political expediency. When I have disagreed it is also based on principled disagreement.”
Then his argument – “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? … they have violated the international will, as expressed by various U.N. Security Council Resolutions, and by deceit, deception and delay advanced their program to the point of being a threshold nuclear state.”
He turns to the aims of the deal and what he feels are its limitations: –
“In essence, we thought the agreement would be roll-back-for-roll-back: you roll-back your infrastructure and we’ll roll-back our sanctions….what we appear to have is a roll-back of sanctions and Iran only limiting its capability, but not dismantling it or rolling it back…I recall in the early days of the Administration’s overtures to Iran, asking Secretary of State, John Kerry, at a meeting of Senators, about dismantling Arak, Iran’s plutonium reactor. His response was swift and certain. He said: ‘They will either dismantle it or we will destroy it.’… Not even one centrifuge will be destroyed under this agreement….….In fact, over half of Iran’s currently operating centrifuges will continue to spin at its Natanz facility. The remainder, including more than 5,000 operating centrifuges and nearly 10,000 not yet functioning, will merely be disconnected and transferred to another hall at Natanz…. Of course if the Iranians violate the agreement and try to make a dash for a nuclear bomb, our solace will be that we will have a year’s notice instead of the present 3 months. So in reality we have purchased a very expensive alarm system..
And on the future – “Iran will receive sanctions relief to the tune of $100-150 billion in the release of frozen assets….Iran who has exported its revolution to Assad in Syria, the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and directed and supported attacks against American troops in Iraq — will be flush with money, not only to invest in their domestic economy, but to further pursue their destabilizing, hegemonic goals in 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 turns to the inspections formula in the agreement which as the W&Y has pointed out is far from strict –
“The goal that we have long sought, along with the international community, is to know what Iran accomplished at Parchin –“Iran possesses two variants of ballistic missiles that, according to experts, are believed to be potentially capable of delivering nuclear weapons…..With so much at stake, the IAEA — after waiting over ten years to inspect Parchin, speak to Iranian nuclear scientists, and review additional materials and documents — are now told they will not have direct access to Parchin.”
He points out that in many cases it is the Iranians themselves who will be performing the tests and providing the samples to be analysed,” As he says this is the “the equivalent of having an athlete accused of using performance enhancing drugs submit an unsupervised urine sample to the appropriate authority….Our willingness to accept this process on Parchin is only exacerbated by the inability to obtain anytime, anywhere inspections, which the Administration always held out as one of those essential elements we would insist on..
He goes on to discuss what happens if the agreement goes ahead but then breaks down:
“ Trying to reassemble the sanctions regime, including the time to give countries and companies notice of sanctionable activity, which had been permissible up to then, would take-up most of the breakout time, assuming we could even get compliance after significant national and private investments had taken place….The President and Secretary Kerry have repeatedly said that the choice is between this agreement or war. I reject that proposition… I believe there is a pathway to a better deal…We can disapprove this agreement, without rejecting the entire agreement.
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…
Third, close the Fordow enrichment facility. ….. If Iran has nothing to hide they shouldn’t need to put it under a mountain.
The President 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 ends by saying that the deal is based on ‘hope’ – “Hope is part of human nature, but unfortunately it is not a national security strategy…Maybe Iran will desist from its nuclear ambitions. Maybe they’ll stop exporting and supporting terrorism. Maybe they’ll stop holding innocent Americans hostage. Maybe they’ll stop burning American flags. And maybe their leadership will stop chanting, “Death to America” in the streets of Tehran. Or maybe they won’t….
It is for these reasons that I will vote to disapprove the agreement and, if called upon, would vote to override a veto.”
The vote and potential Presidential veto is explained here.