Chairman Menendez Speech on Iran

Press Contact : 

adam_sharon@foreign.senate.gov


WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered the following speech on Iran on the U.S. Senate Floor.

The speech transcript follows:   

“I come to the floor to speak about one of our greatest national security challenges –which is a nuclear-armed Iran.I have long thought of this as a bipartisan national security issue – not a partisan political issue.

At the end of the day  it is a national security issue that we must approach in a spirit of bipartisanship and unity, which has been the spirit for which we have worked together on this matter.

And I hope that we will not find ourselves in a  partisan process trying to force a vote on this national security matter before its appropriate time.

Let me say at the outset, I support the Administration’s diplomatic efforts. I have always supported a two-track policy of diplomacy and sanctions.

At the same time, I am convinced that we should only relieve pressure on Iran in exchange for verifiable concessions that will dismantle Iran’s nuclear program. Our success should be measured in years, not months.

And that it be done in such a way that alarm bells will sound -- from Vienna to Washington, -- should Iran restart its program anytime in the next 20 to 30 years. I’m here to unequivocally state my intention – as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee – to make absolutely certain that any deal that we may reach with Iran is verifiable, effective, and prevents them from ever developing even one nuclear weapon.

Let’s remember that – while we in the Senate are not at the negotiating table – we have a tremendous stake in the outcome and an obligation, as a separate co-equal branch of government representing the American people, to provide oversight and an expression of what we expect as to what the end result should be.

But, it’s the Administration that is at the negotiating table with the Iranians – not us; and it’s the Administration that’s ultimately responsible for negotiating a deal to conclusively end Iran’s illicit nuclear program and it’s the Administration that will have to come back to Congress and tell us whether Iran will continue to be a nuclear threshold state.

My sincere desire is for the Administration to succeed. No one has worked harder for a peaceful outcome or to get Iran to comply with sanctions than I have.

But, Based on the parameters described in the Joint Plan of Action and Iranian comments in the days that have followed I am very concerned.  This is not a nothing-ventured-nothing-gained enterprise.

We have placed our incredibly effective international sanctions regime on the line without clearly defining the parameters of what we expect in a final agreement.  

As Ali Akbar Salehi, who is the Head of Iran's nuclear agency said last month on Iranian state television about the agreement, he said:The iceberg of sanctions is melting while our centrifuges are also still working.  This is our greatest achievement."

Well, Mr. President, it’s my greatest fear.  Any final deal must require Iran to dismantle large portions of its illicit nuclear program.

Any final deal must require Iran to halt its advanced centrifuge R&D activities, reduce the vast majority of its 20,000 centrifuges, close the Fordow facility, stop the heavy-water reactor at Arak from ever possibly coming on-line.  And it should require Iran’s full-disclosure of its nuclear activities -- including its weaponization activities.

For the good of the region and the world, Iran cannot remain a nuclear weapon threshold state period.

A final agreement should move back the timeline for nuclear breakout capability to beyond-a-year -- and insist on a long-term, 20 year plus, monitoring and verification agreement.  That is the only way to force Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons aspirations.

Anything else will leave Iran on the cusp of becoming a nuclear state while it re-builds its economy and improves its ability to break-out at a future date.

David Albright -- a respected former IAEA Inspector – has said that for Iran to move from an interim to a final agreement, it would have to close the Fordow facility and remove between 15,000 and 16,000 of its 20,000 centrifuges. And he had, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a long list of elements that he thinks is critical for a final agreement.

Even after such dramatic steps, we are looking at a breakout time of between 6 and 8 months, depending on whether Iran has access to uranium enriched to just 3.5 percent – or access to 20 percent enriched uranium.

Dennis Ross -- one of America’s preeminent diplomats and foreign policy analysts who as served under Democratic and Republican Presidents alike -- has said Iran should retain no more than 10 percent of its centrifuges – which is in essence no more than 2,000.

These estimates are crucial because, at the end of the day, we – in this body -- will have to decide whether this is enough to merit terminating sanctions.

Is a 6 month delay in Iran’s breakout ability enough, even when combined with a robust 20 years inspection and verification regime?

Understanding that in allowing Iran to retain its enrichment capabilities, there will always be a risk of breakout.

It may be -- that is the only deal we can get. The real question is whether it is a good enough deal to merit terminating sanctions.

My concern is that the Joint Plan of Action does not speak to these recommended centrifuge limitations Dennis Ross or Dr. Albright suggests. In fact, Iran has already made its views about the limitations of the agreement quite clear.

What the Joint Plan of Action does concede is that Iran will not only retain its ability to enrich – but will be allowed a mutually agreed upon enrichment program.

Here is what Iran’s Foreign Minister, Zarif has said about the interim agreement:

“The White House tries to portray it as basically a dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program. We are not dismantling any centrifuges, we’re not dismantling any equipment, we’re simply not producing, not enriching over 5 percent.” That’s their Foreign Minister. What does President Rouhani of Iran say?

He was adamant in an interview on CNN that Iran will not be dismantling its centrifuges.

He said: “We are determined to provide for the nuclear fuel of such plants inside the country, at the hands of local Iranian scientists. We are going to follow on this path.”

And on that program was Fareed Zakaria  asked : “So there will be no destruction of centrifuges -- of existing centrifuges?”

President Rouhani said: “No. No, not at all.”

In fact, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Araghchi said that Iran would comply with the interim agreement by removing the connections between networks of centrifuges that have been used to enrich uranium to 20 percent, so that they can enrich only to 5 percent and he said: “These interconnections can be removed in a day and connected again in a day.”

That is not the type of safeguard that we need. Clearly, their intentions, at least in these negotiations, is to retain their capability – notwithstanding the agreement – that’s pretty clear to me.

in January, President Rouhani tweeted: “Our relationship with the world is based on Iranian nation’s interest. In Geneva agreement, world powers surrendered to Iran’s national will.”

When this tweet was broadly reported-on, President Rouhani took it down.

And in a speech when Rouhani was leaving his post as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator in 2005, he said:

“While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the [uranium conversion] facility in Isfahan, but we still had a long way to go to complete the project. In fact, by creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work on Isfahan.”

In essence, we were able to complete the work of the uranium conversion. Now, sometimes I think it is worthy to listen to the words of these individuals now in leadership positions to understand the mindset of the negotiations that are taking place.

Basically what President Rouhani was saying that he was able to get the West to not pursue sanctions and to ultimately not take any other action as Iran continued to march forward in its nuclear program.

I find these comments deeply troubling. I find the fact that -- even after an agreement was reached in November -- the Iranians reportedly fired a rocket into space to improve their ability to develop a long-range ballistic missile system.

In an interview with Reuters, U.S. missile defense expert, Riki Ellison, said of the report: “If it’s true, they continue to expand and grow their long range missile capabilities regardless of their overture to the West with self-reduction of their nuclear capabilities.”

These realities – these statements – these actions – are just as much about the spirit of the interim deal as it is about the letter of the deal and places in question the political will of the Iranians -- and our ability to reach a verifiable agreement with those who have been so willing to so deceive.

In terms of both Iran’s political will and its ballistic missile capability, James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, said the following: “Tehran has made technical progress in a number of areas -- including uranium enrichment, nuclear reactors, and ballistic missiles — from which it could draw if it decided to build missile-deliverable nuclear weapons. These technical advancements strengthen our assessment that Iran has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons. This makes the central issue its political will to do so.”

So what the analysis reveals is that – years of obfuscation, delay, and endless negotiation – has brought the Iranians to the point of having – according to the Director of National Intelligence – the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons.

As to their will to do so, I would say that what they are hiding at Parchin Military Industrial Complex – if revealed, would clearly show their will is to build a nuclear bomb. The only thing that has thwarted that will are crippling sanctions.

And the Iranians have fought back every step of the way with the international community, getting access to Parchin, which the world largely views Parchin as the place in which their militarization of nuclear energy-therefore nuclear weapons - was taking place.

In my view, the Iranians are negotiating in bad faith, as we have seen them do in the past.

They say one thing behind closed doors in Geneva, and say another thing publically.

Mr. President, I know the Administration will say this is what President Rouhani needs to do for his domestic audience, but his deeds need to go beyond his words, and they need to be verifiable.

In fact, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, David Albright of the Institute of Science and International Security and an expert on the proliferation of atomic weapons, said that under the interim agreement:“The breakout time, if Iran used its currently installed centrifuges, would lengthen from at least 1 to 1.6 months to at least 1.9 to 2.2 months.” Which effectively means, without dismantling currently installed centrifuges, Iran has a breakout time of 6 to 8 weeks unless we demand real concessions in a final agreement. Six to 8 weeks, and that figure is going to be very important, as I get to it later, Mr. President,  because 6 to 8 weeks is a lot shorter than the timeframe to invoke and make sanctions effective.

Another major concern is the Arak heavy water reactor -- a facility that Dennis Ross has described as “grossly inefficient for producing electricity, but not for generating plutonium for nuclear weapons.”

The Senate was told that the facility would be taken care of in the final agreement – which most of us understood to mean it would be dismantled.

Now, the Joint Plan of Action and the implementing agreement suggest something far less than dismantlement.

The implementing agreement says Iran has to “take steps to agree with the IAEA on the conclusion of a safeguards approach to Arak.”

Iran has not provided required design information for Arak as we thought was going to happen -- and in the final agreement it seems possible that either Iran will be allowed to complete the reactor and operate it under IAEA safe-guards or the reactor will be simply mothballed – not dismantled – mothballed or perhaps converted to a light-water facility  that carries its own risks.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister has said that the Arak reactor is the fastest way to get the material for a nuclear weapon.

So, while I understand the agreement also does not permit Iran to construct a related reprocessing facility at this time, the implication of the agreement’s language is that the final agreement will not actually require the dismantling of the Arak reactor, meaning that Arak could -- at a future date -- give Iran a relatively quick path to a weapon.

I find that simply unacceptable.

In my view, Iran’s strategy, consistent with their past approaches that have brought them to a nuclear threshold state, is to use these negotiations to mothball its nuclear infrastructure program just long enough to undo the international sanctions regime.

Iran is insisting on keeping core elements of its programs – enrichment, the Arak heavy-water reactor, the underground Fordow facility, and the Parchin military complex.

And, while they may be subject to safeguards -- so they can satisfy the international community in the short-run – if they are allowed to retain their core infrastructure, they could quickly revive their program sometime in the future.

At the same time, Iran is seeking to reverse the harsh international sanctions regimes against them.

Bottom line: If they get their way they dismantle nothing. We gut the sanctions.

Troubling signs have already appeared.

Since the interim deal was signed there was an immediate effort by many nations – including many European nations --- to revive trade and resume business with Iran.

There have been recent headlines that the Russians may be seeking a barter deal that could increase Iran’s oil exports by 50 percent.

That Iran and Russia are negotiating an oil-for-goods deal worth $1.5 billion a month -- $18 billion a year – which would significantly boost Iran’s oil exports by 500,000 barrels a day in exchange for Russian goods.

Now, to the Administrations credit, they said they’re aware of those concerns and have told the Russians if they are to follow through it would be subject to sanctions, but I’m not sure Vladmir Putin will be thwarted by such warnings.

A coalition of France’s largest companies are already visiting Tehran. Iran welcomed more than 100 executives from France’s biggest firms on Monday, the most senior French trade mission in years.

And, since November there have been 20-plus trade delegations from Turkey, Georgia, Ireland, Tunisia, Kazakhstan, China, Italy, India, Austria, and Sweden.

What’s the result? Iran’s economy is recovering.

The Iranian rial – in essence their dollar -- which had plummeted from an official rate of 10,440 rials to the dollar to a staggering 41,000 in October 2012 – but, its begun to recover. As of January 29, that rate has gone from 41,000 to a sing dollar to about 25,000 rials to the dollar. International Monetary Fund figures also show Iran’s negative growth rate turning around, with Iran having a projected growth rate of 1.28 percent to almost 2 percent in 2014 and 2015.

As Mark Dubowitz, Executive Director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week, the $7 billion in actual relief Iran will definitively receive under the Joint Plan of Action is very significant – comprising approximately 35 percent of Iran’s fully accessible cash reserves, which are estimated to be $20 billion.

So, while the Iranian economy is described as being much larger, the assessment that this is a drop in the bucket is simply not accurate.

Moreover, that relief fails to consider the $4-5 billion in revenue that Iran would have lost if we had not suspended sanctions on Iran’s crude oil exports as required under existing law.

Sanctions relief -- combined with the “open for business sign” that Iran is posting -- is paying returns.  

It seems to me that the sanctions regime we’ve worked so hard to build is starting to unravel before we ever get a chance to conclude a final agreement with Iran.

The fact is any final deal as inadequate as the one I’ve outlined, will end any pressure on Iran for the foreseeable future.

Put simply, we need a policy that guarantees Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons capability.

To understand how to proceed, we must also understand the facts. We need to put the negotiating into context.

First, Iran has a history of duplicity with respect to its nuclear program, using past negotiations to cover up advances in its nuclear program and -- most startlingly -- at the undeclared Fordow enrichment site, buried deep in a mountain to prevent its discovery and potential destruction.

That begs the obvious question: Why would someone bury a facility so deep so that it could not be discovered if it was solely for the peaceful purposes you claim.

It seems unlikely – as Iran’s leaders have made clear in recent days -- that Iran will make any concessions that fundamentally dismantle its nuclear program.

The fact is Iran is simply agreeing to lock the door on its nuclear weapons program – as is – walk away and should they later walk away from a deal as they have in the past, they can simply unlock the door and continue their nuclear weapons program from where they are today.

Sounds a lot like North Korea.

Let’s not forget that President Rouhani, as the former negotiator for Iran, boasted: “The day that we invited the three European ministers to the talks, only 10 centrifuges were spinning at Natanz. We could not produce one gram of U4 or U6. We did not have the heavy water production. We could not produce yellow cake.

Our total production of centrifuges inside the country was 150. We wanted to complete all of these – we needed time. We did not stop. We completed the program.”

150 – 20,000 today.

The simple truth is he admitted to deceiving the West.

Given President Rouhani’s own words on his country’s nuclear weapons ambition, it seems to me that a “good deal” is not one that equates dismantling with mothballing. A “good deal” would prevent Iran from being able to get back to work on its nuclear weapons program from where it left off.

Second, despite diplomatic entreaties to the Iranians in recent years – where hands were extended and secret talks were pursued - Iran has grown its support and advocacy for terror.

The history of Iranian terror against U.S. citizens and interests is lengthy and robust, grounded in the view that the United States is the Great Satan -- and its funding and support of Hezbollah that has carried out attacks against American interests.

241 American servicemen died in the 1983 Marine Corps barracks bombing in Lebanon, 19 in Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.

In recent years, we’ve traced responsibility for lethal actions against American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to whom Iran, as well as the fortunately thwarted attack on the Saudi Ambassador at a Washington restaurant in 2011.

Today, Iran is actively sponsoring a proxy war in Syria sending money, weapons and fighters on a weekly basis.

Simultaneously, it is sponsoring attacks against Sunnis in Iraq and promoting regional sectarian violence that could easily result in a broader regional conflict.

While smiling at our negotiators across the table, they are simultaneously plotting in the backroom.

With all of this in mind, I believe in the wisdom of the prospective sanctions I proposed. I believe in the lessons of history that tell us Iran cannot be trusted to live up to its word without external pressure. I believe that an insurance policy that guards against Iranian obfuscation and deception is the best way forward.

I know there’s a difference of view - but I think the element that got Iran to the negotiating table is the element of peaceful diplomacy that can keep it there and can ultimately drive a successful negotiation.

My legislation – cosponsored by 59 Senators – would simply require that Iran act in good faith, adhering to the implementing agreement, not engage in new acts of terror against American citizens or U.S, property -- and not conduct new ballistic missile tests with a range beyond 500 kilometers.

Mr. President The legislation is not the problem. Congress is not the problem. Iran is the problem. We need to worry about Iran,  than we need to worry about the Congress.

We need to focus on Iran’s long history of deception surrounding its nuclear program and how this should inform our approach to reaching a comprehensive deal.

To those who believe that -- if negotiations do not result in a deal or if Iran breaks the deal -- we can always impose new sanctions then let me be clear: if negotiations fail, or if Iran breaks the deal, we won’t have time to pass new sanctions that would have a real consequence.

New sanctions are not a spigot that can be turned off-and-on as has been suggested.

Even if Congress were to take-up and pass new sanctions at the moment of Iran’s first breach of the Joint Plan of Action-or if they do not reach and agreement that is acceptable there is a lag time of at least 6 months to bring those sanctions on line -- and at least a year for the real impact to be felt.

Now, that’s been our history here. I’ve authored most of these. They need a lead time and give countries and companies the time to notice as to what is going to be sanctioned so they can rearrange their engagements and then you have to have the regulations to go through and then you have to have the enforcements take place.

This would bring us beyond the very short-time Iran would need to build a nuclear bomb, especially since the interim agreement does not require them neither to dismantle anything, and basically freezes their capability as it stands today.

So let everyone understand - if there is no deal  I don’t think we are going to have the time to impose new sanctions before Iran can produce a nuclear weapon.

Everyone agrees that the comprehensive sanctions policy against Iran – which was led by Congress and originally opposed by the Administration -- has been an unquestionable, success.

Iran’s oil exports fell to 1.1 million barrels a day in the first 9 months of 2013 – down from 1.5 million barrels in 2012.

The fall in exports was costing Iran between $4 billion and $8 billion a month in 2013 and the loss of oil revenue had caused the rial to lose two-thirds of its value against the dollar, and caused inflation to rise to more than 40 percent.

There is no dispute or disagreement that it was the economic impact of sanctions that has brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place.

By passing those sanctions and having them in place long enough to be effective took time – time I am concerned we no longer have.

The question now is whether our goals align. Has the ideology of the regime altered so substantially in the last 6 months that they are ready to forswear a 20 year effort – 20-year effort - to develop nuclear weapons or are they, as the Supreme leader has stated, seeking to beat us at the game of diplomacy – “to negotiate with the Devil to eliminate its evil” -- and retain their nuclear threshold and enriching abilities while degrading the sanctions regime.

And let’s not forget that it’s the Ayatollah –I know we are placing a lot of faith on President Rouhani and the Iranian Foreign Minister – but it’s the ayatollah --  who holds the nuclear portfolio and his main goal is what – it is preservation of the regime.

It is the Ayatollah who gave the green light to Rouhani to negotiate. Why? Because the sanctions were causing the Ayatollah to be concerned about regime change taking place within Iranian society due to the sanctions’ consequences on the Iranian economy. Now, interestingly enough, who benefits from the sanctions relief? The Ayatollah, in a Reuters story with the title: “Khamenei’s business empire gains from Iran sanctions relief.”

It goes to talk about that Khamenei controls a massive business empire known as Setad that has invested in Iran’s petrochemical industries which is now permitted to resume its exports.

In an interview with Reuters this week, a treasury department official that Iran would generate almost a billion dollars in revenue-a billion dollars in revenue- from the petrochemical exports over the next 6 months. Who is the one who has the great deal of interest in the petrochemical sector? The Ayatolla by his control of Setad.

I have worked on Iran’s nuclear issues for 20 years, starting when I was a member of the House pressing for sanctions to prevent Iran from building the Bushehr nuclear power plant and to halt IAEA support for their uranium mining and enrichment programs.

For a decade I was told that my concerns had no legitimate basis -- that Iran would never be able to bring the Bushehr plant on line, and that Iran’s activities were not the most major concern.

History has shown us that those assessments -- about Iran’s abilities and intentions -- were simply wrong.

The fact is Iran’s nuclear aspirations did not materialize overnight.

Iran has been slowly, methodically working up to this moment for decades – and now, if its capability is mothballed rather than dismantled – they will remain at the cusp of becoming a declared nuclear state should they chose to start again because nothing will have changed if nothing is significantly dismantled.

Make no mistake -- Iran views developing a nuclear capability as fundamental to its existence.

It sees the development of nuclear weapons as part of a regional hegemonic strategy to make Tehran the center of power throughout the region.

That is why our allies and partners in the region – not just Israelis, but the Emiratis and the Saudis among others -- are so skeptical and so concerned.

Quite simply our allies and partners do not trust Iranian leaders, nor do they believe that Iran has any intention of verifiably ending its nuclear weapons program.

So, while I welcome diplomatic efforts, and I share the hope that the Administration can achieve a final comprehensive agreement that eliminates this threat to global peace and security, I am deeply – deeply skeptical – based up on these 20 years of experience.

The simple and deeply troubling fact is -- Iran is literally weeks to months away from breakout, and the parameters of the final agreement -- laid out in the Joint Plan of Action -- do not appear to set Iran’s development-capacity back by more than a few weeks.

The Joint Plan of Action conceded, even before negotiations had even begun, Iran’s right to some level of enrichment despite a U.N. resolution calling for Iran to suspend enrichment.

It provides no guarantees that we’ll resolve our concerns about Iranian weaponization activities, that Iran will cease advanced centrifuge research,- Why is that important- because we heard testimony: the more advanced the centrifuge the less centrifuges you need, the quicker you can produce and enrich uranium to be able to acquire that bomb and the increasingly less verifiable it is, so Iran has to cease its advanced centrifuge research,  that the IAEA gain access to the Parchin military base, that Iran will dismantle thousands of centrifuges, or that the Iranians will disclose the scope of their activities.

It suggests that the resolution for the Arak heavy-water reactors, which can provide a quicker plutonium pathway to nuclear weapons, may be to put it under IAEA safeguards, rather than require its dismantlement

Seems to me that we don’t have time under the testimony taken before the committee-for Iran to hedge and obfuscate. They have done a pretty good job at that and that’s what brought them to the cusp of being a nuclear state. There should be no chance for Iran to buy more time, which, in effect, leaves us exactly where we are – just hitting a pause-button -- with the state of play unchanged and Iran weeks from breakout.

To me, that’s a bad agreement and, in my view, we should be negotiating from a position of strength –

Last Tuesday night, in the State of the Union, the President said: "If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today."

I agree, but I would point out to my colleagues that they did so from a position of strength. President Kennedy sent U.S. warships to face down the Soviets in Cuba, and Ronald Reagan dramatically built-up U.S. military might - to an extent to what was the former soviet union couldn’t keep up with the pace

We need to negotiate with Iran from a position of strength. Yes, then we should have no fear about any such negotiations.

The concerns I have raised here are legitimate. They are not – as the President’s press secretary has said – “war-mongering.” This is not saber rattling. It is not Congress wanting to “march to war,” as another White House spokeswoman said -- but exactly the opposite.

I find it interesting as someone who was then in the House of Representatives was in a small minority voting against the war in Iraq when the overwhelming members of my colleague and the many members of this body were voting for the war – to somehow be portrayed as a war monger. It is my mind the use of sanctions, which is a limited part of an arsenal of peaceful diplomacy tools that can get you to successful negotiations.

At the end of the day, trying to keep the pressure on Iran to completely satisfy the UN’s -- and the international community’s -- demands for Iran to halt and reverse its illicit nuclear activities is the best way to avoid war in the first place - to avoid war in the first place.

Iran has proven in the past it won’t negotiate in good faith except when it has no other choice – as the tough sanctions we passed have proven by getting Iran to the table.

Iran says it won’t negotiate with a gun to its head.

Well, I would suggest it is Iran that has put the potential of a nuclear gun to the world’s head.

So, at the end of the day, name-calling is not an argument, nor is it sound policy.

It is a false choice to say a vote for sanctions is equivalent to war-mongering.

More pressure on Iran does not -- in any way -- suggest that Congress wants war, or that the Iranians feel backed into a corner and will – themselves -- choose war over reason.

So let’s stop talking about war-mongering.

Let’s instead fixate on the final deal which, in my view, cannot and should not rely simply on trust, but on real, honest, verifiable dismantlement of Iran’s capability to produce even one nuclear bomb.

The ball is in the Administration’s court, not really on Congress’.

In fact, the agreement specifically states-and there has been a lot of talk about how we shouldn’t consider any new sanctions even if they are prospective, which legislation says nothing would happen until up to a year unless Iran violates the interim agreement or fails to conclude the agreement within the year. But if you read the joint plan of action, it says : "The U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions."

It doesn’t say the United State of America, it doesn’t say the Congress, it says the Administration acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress will refrain from imposing new nuclear related sanctions.

The agreement acknowledges that the Administration – not Congress – will refrain from imposing new sanctions.

The Administration knew it could not bind Congress to refrain from imposing new sanctions – because Congress is a separate co-equal branch of government.

So let’s focus on what was agreed to by those at the table rather than attributing blame to those who were not.

We will not be the scapegoats for a bad deal if it does not take the nuclear weapons option off the table by insisting on dismantling existing capability, not simply mothballing it.

Let me say, Mr. President, I want diplomacy to work - that’s why we work so hard to get to the opportunity- I want it to produce the results we all hope for and have worked for.

But, at a minimum, we need to send a message to Iran that our patience is not unlimited and that we are skeptical of their intentions.

And a message to the international community that the sanctions regime has not weakened, that this is not an opportunity to re-engage with Tehran.

I would urge everyone to look at the legislation I’ve drafted with my colleague from Illinois and members of both Caucuses as a win for the Administration.

They’ve succeeded in convincing us - the administration has succeeded in convincing us - to provide up-to-a-year window to negotiate. That’s not the way the legislation was intended.

But they convinced us that they needed an opportunity to negotiate and hence the legislation was worked in such a way to create that opportunity.

I believe that is significant and generous given Iran’s history of treachery and deceit.

If Iran’s steps away from the negotiations or does not live up to its agreement it will be because they aren’t serious about reaching a comprehensive deal. 

Mr. President, I have heard the concerns of the Administration. I know we share the same goals.

And we have taken steps in the Foreign Relations Committee in pursuit of those goals.

We worked with Administration to pass legislation to help reform the Organization of American States.

We have moved 129 – more now with last group -- nominees the Administration put forward.

We worked through Labor Day – in a bipartisan effort -- to quickly pass a resolution authorizing the use of military force in Syria which gave the President - there are those that are critical of that as well, but that authorization gave the President the ability to go to Russia and get a deal to end the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

We passed -- and the President signed PEPFAR into law – the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

We worked with the Administration on Embassy Security after Benghazi.

We worked with countless Administration officials and held two hearing on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In all of these actions and much more, I have worked closely with the Administration.

And my intention now is to assist the Administration again in its negotiations by keeping the pressure on Iran which has always proven an unreliable negotiating partner at best.

In my view, it’s time to put Iranian rhetoric to the test. If we are to take President Rouhani’s word when he said in Davos last week that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons -- if that’s true, then the Iranian government should not have any problems with the obvious follow-up to that claim – starting with the verifiable dismantling of its illicit nuclear infrastructure. That is all the sanctions legislation does.

I don’t think we should settle for nothing less.

Let’s be clear, I do not come to this floor in opposition, I come in comity, and in the spirit of unity that has always dictated our foreign policy, but the Senate has an obligation to challenge assumptions in a free and open debate.

That is what is most extraordinary about our government and it echoes in the many debates that have been held in this Chamber on war and peace, on justice, freedom, and civil rights.

At the end of the day, we have an obligation to speak our minds in what we believe is in the best interest of this nation.

It is in that spirit that I come to the floor today.

As General George Marshall said, “Go right straight down the road, to do what is best, and to do it frankly and without evasion.” Today, I am advocating for what I believe is in our national interest, and doing as frankly and as comprehensively as I can.

As John Kennedy said about having differences of opinion: “Let us not be blind to [them], but let us also direct our attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved.”

The Administration and the Senate have a common interest – to prevent a nuclear-weapons-capable-Iran. We have differences as to how to achieve it. We have an obligation to debate those differences and concerns. But I won’t yield on a principled difference.

It is our obligation to debate the issues -- express our differences and concerns -- and come to this floor to work together to resolve them.

At the end of the day, my hope as someone who has  been working on this for 20 years  can see the fruition of a successful negotiation by the President and the Administration so that Iran will never have a nuclear weapon capability.

But by the same token I think we need to be poised to ensure that we use the last element of peaceful diplomacy - which is to ensure that there are sanctions that create a consequence to the regime so that they can put that in their equation as to it is better to strike a deal and end our illicit nuclear program than it is to pursue a course that creates nuclear weapons. 

If not, I fear if we continue down path and sanctions erode and all we do is limit – and have safeguards notices – warning signs- we’ll get the warning signs but the sanctions will be gone and the only options left for future American President will be: Do you accept nuclear-armed Iran or do you have a military option?

Those are not desirable options. And it is our effort to avoid that being the ultimate question that is what we embody in the sanctions legislation that has passed this Chamber and signed by the President, and that we believe prospectively can increase the pressure on Iran to come to the peaceful conclusion so that that option of either accepting a nuclear armed Iran or having to have a military option to prevent it from doing so is not the option for our country or any future American President.

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