Chairman Menendez’s Opening Remarks at Hearing on Iran Nuclear Negotiations
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Washington, DC – U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the below opening statement at today’s hearing on Iran nuclear negotiations.
His statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:
“Let me begin by welcoming our panelists. Today we have two panels. On the first panel is Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. Under Secretary Sherman is joined this morning by David Cohen, Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financing. Thank you both for being here.
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 fundamentally dismantle Iran’s nuclear program – not by a month or two, but by a year or more. 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.
Any deal the Administration reaches with Iran must be verifiable, effective, and prevent Iran from ever developing even one nuclear weapon.
In my view – based on the parameters described in the Joint Plan of Action and Iranian comments in the days that have followed – I am very concerned about Iranian willingness to reach a real agreement. 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, the Head of Iran's nuclear agency said last week on Iranian state television about the agreement, “The iceberg of sanctions is melting while our centrifuges are also still working. This is our greatest achievement." Well, frankly, it’s my greatest fear.
Salehi may be correct; the iceberg of sanctions may melt before we have an agreement in place and that may in fact be the Iranian end game. They understand that once the international community ceases backing sanctions they will have one regardless of whether we have a deal.
At the end of the day, any final deal must require Iran to dismantle large portions of its nuclear infrastructure. Any final deal must address Iran’s advanced centrifuge R&D activities that allow to more quickly and more efficiently enrich uranium; it must eliminate the vast majority of Iran’s 20,000 centrifuges, close the Fordow facility, and stop the heavy-water reactor at Arak from ever coming on-line. And it must address Iran’s weaponization activities, something not directly contemplated by the Joint Plan of Action.
Experts, including David Albright who will be on our second panel, have 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 even then, we are looking at potential 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 re-converted percent enriched uranium.
A final agreement should move back the time line for breakout to beyond a year or more and insist on a long-term, 20 year plus regime of monitoring and verification.
A final agreement that mothballs Iran’s infrastructure or fundamentally preserves their ability to easily break-out is not a final agreement I can support.
If all we achieve is the essence of an early-warning system in Iran’s future break-out ability, and the sanctions regime has collapsed, and the only options for this or any future President is to accept a nuclear-armed Iran or a military option, in my view – that is not in the national security interests of the United States.
I know that is not anyone’s goal or plan, but I also think we need to guard against wanting a deal so much that we concede more than we gain.
At the end of the day Iran can no longer be nuclear threshold state.
I have made my position quite clear and will continue to do so. I’ll have specific questions for all of our panelists that I hope you will be able to answer to help assure us that this is, in fact, a good deal."