Chairman Menendez: We Cannot Allow Iran to Threaten Us into a Bad Deal or an Interim Agreement that Allows it to Continue Building its Nuclear Capacity
“This is exactly why I was so concerned over the JCPOA framework of leaving the vast majority of Iran’s nuclear program intact.”
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today took to the Senate Floor to deliver remarks to lay out his growing concerns with the Biden administration’s latest round of negotiations over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) while Iran continues to rapidly escalate its nuclear program, which has brought it to the brink of having enough material for a nuclear weapon.
“As someone who has followed Iran's nuclear ambition for the better part of three decades, I am here today to raise concerns about the current round of negotiations over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and Iran’s dangerously and rapidly escalating nuclear program that has put it on the brink of having enough material for a nuclear weapon,” said Chairman Menendez, making an impassioned pitch for the Biden administration and our allies to exert more pressure on Iran to counter its nuclear program, its missile program, and its dangerous behavior around the Middle East. “I have been cautiously optimistic about the Biden administration’s initial efforts. I waited for the last year to see results. Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Secretary of State and others, senior members of the Administration, insisted they would look for a ‘longer and stronger’ agreement. I have a pretty good sense of what I think ‘longer’ and ‘stronger’ means. ‘Longer’ is obvious, more time. ‘Stronger’ – dealing with elements that had not been previously dealt with. However, a year later, I have yet to hear any parameters of ‘longer’ or ‘stronger’ terms or whether that is even a feasible prospect. And even when it seemed a constructive agreement might be possible last summer, upon taking office, the Raisi government abandoned all previous understandings and, as I mentioned, made absolutely clear that Iran’s ballistic missiles and regional proxy networks are ‘not negotiable.’ Moreover, at this point, we seriously have to ask what exactly are we trying to salvage?”
“While some have tried to paint me as belligerent to diplomacy – or worse – I have always believed that multilateral, diplomatic negotiations from a position of strength are the best way to address Iran’s nuclear program,” Chairman Menendez continued: “We cannot ignore Iran’s nefarious support for terrorism or accept threats to American interests and lives. We must welcome legitimate and verifiably peaceful uses of nuclear power, but remain true to our nonproliferation principles and our unyielding desire to build a more stable, safer, prosperous world for the American people and all peace-loving people to thrive. In order to do so, Iran cannot and must not possess a nuclear weapon.”
Find a copy of Chairman Menendez’s remarks as delivered below.
“Madam President, for nearly 30 years, first as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and to this day as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I have had the privilege of engaging in the most pressing foreign policy and national security issues facing our nation.
While we are all rightly focused on the crisis unfolding around Ukraine, we must not lose sight of how dangerously close Iran is to becoming a nuclear-armed state, for we know that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose an unacceptable threat to U.S. national security interests, to our allies in Europe and to overall stability in the Middle East.
As someone who has followed Iran's nuclear ambition for the better part of three decades, I am here today to raise concerns about the current round of negotiations over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and Iran’s dangerously and rapidly escalating nuclear program that has put it on the brink of having enough material for a nuclear weapon.
Three to four weeks. A month or less.
That’s how long most analysts have concluded it would take Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb, if they choose to do so.
That is not a timeline we can accept.
That is why I’m calling on the Biden administration and our international partners to exert more pressure on Iran to counter its nuclear program, its missile program, and its dangerous behavior around the Middle East, including attacks on American personnel and assets.
Before I continue, let me set the record straight.
While some have tried to paint me as belligerent to diplomacy – or worse – I have always believed that multilateral, diplomatic negotiations from a position of strength are the best way to address Iran’s nuclear program.
And I have always advocated for a comprehensive diplomatic agreement that is long lasting, fully verifiable, and with an enforceable snapback system of sanctions should Iran breach any terms.
It was for very specific reasons that I opposed the JCPOA back in 2015, as well as an underlying concern that I just could not shake: a sense that the deal itself was a best-case scenario hinging on good faith actors and overly-optimistic outcomes without enough consideration for the worst-case scenarios that might arise from the behavior of bad actors.
Today, many of the concerns I expressed about the JCPOA back in August of 2015 are coming back to haunt us in the year 2022.
First and foremost, my overarching concern with the JCPOA was that it did not require the complete dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.
Instead, it mothballed that infrastructure for 10 years, making it all too easy for Iran to resume its illicit nuclear program at a moment of its choosing.
The deal did not require Iran to destroy or fully decommission a single uranium enrichment centrifuge.
In fact, over half of Iran’s operating centrifuges at the time were able to continue spinning at its Natanz facility.
The remainder – more than 5,000 operational centrifuges and nearly 10,000 not yet operational – were to be merely disconnected. Instead of being completely removed, they were transferred to another hall at Natanz where they could be quickly reinstalled to enrich uranium, which is exactly what we have seen happen over the past year.
Nor did the deal shut down or destroy the Fordow nuclear facility, which Iran constructed underneath a mountain to house its covert uranium enrichment infrastructure. Under the JCPOA, it was merely repurposed.
Now, Iran is back in business at Fordow; spinning its most advanced centrifuges and enriching uranium to a higher level of purity than before it entered the JCPOA.
In the two years since President Trump left the JCPOA, Iran has resumed its research and development into a range of centrifuges, making rapid improvements to their effectiveness. Huge strides that we will never be able to roll back.
Today, Iran has more fissile materials – 2500kg, more advanced centrifuges, and a shorter breakout time – three to four weeks – than it had in 2015.
This is exactly why I was so concerned over the JCPOA framework of leaving the vast majority of Iran’s nuclear program intact.
This is how Iran was able to rapidly rebuild and advance its enrichment capabilities once the agreement fill apart. That was a serious mistake.
Back in 2015, I also expressed my grave concern that Iran only agreed to provisionally apply the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
The Additional Protocol is what allows the International Atomic Energy Administration to go beyond merely verifying that all declared nuclear material and facilities are being used for peaceful purposes and provides it with a verification mechanism to ensure states do not have undeclared nuclear material and facilities.
The Additional Protocol was particularly important because Iran has never fully come clean about its previous clandestine nuclear activities.
For well over two decades, mounting concerns over Iran’s secret weaponization efforts united the world.
The goal that we have long sought, along with the international community, is to find out exactly what Iran accomplished in its clandestine program – not necessarily to get Iran to declare culpability – but to determine how far they had advanced their weaponization program so that we would know what signatures to look for in the future.
David Albright, a physicist and former nuclear weapons inspector, and founder of the Institute for Science and International Security, said: ‘Addressing the IAEA’s concerns about the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programs is fundamental to any long term agreement… an agreement that sidesteps the military issues would risk being unverifiable.’
The reason he said that ‘an agreement that sidesteps the military issues would be unverifiable,’ is because it makes a difference if you are 90 percent in terms of enriched material down the road in your weaponization efforts or only 10 percent advanced. It makes a big difference.
The state of Iran’s weaponization efforts significantly impacts the breakout time for the regime to complete an actual deliverable weapon.
So, this verifiability is critical. And in 2015, I explained the JCPOA did not empower international weapons inspectors to conduct the kind of ‘anywhere, anytime inspections’ needed to get to the bottom of Iran’s previous weaponization program.
In February 2021, we saw the consequences of not insisting Iran permanently ratify the Additional Protocol.
Iran simply decided they were done with the Additional Protocol and refused to allow the IAEA to fully investigate locations where it found traces of uranium enrichment.
It is now obvious that the IAEA is significantly limited in its ability to determine the extent of Iran’s previous nuclear program and whether further militarization activities have continued all this time. Without the complete adoption of the Additional Protocol, the JCPOA did not empower the IAEA to achieve this task.
So that was then and this is now. And though I had my concerns with JCPOA, as I have expressed, I am also absolutely clear-eyed, as should everyone else in this chamber should be, that the way in which President Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal, with no diplomatic plan for constraining Iran’s nuclear ambitions, without the support of any of our allies, without any kind of serious alternative, emboldened Iran to pursue its nuclear ambitions like never before.
Now, we can’t live in a counterfactual world where all parties remained in full compliance, but we do know that even for the first couple years of the JCPOA, Iran’s leaders gave absolutely no indication they were willing to look beyond the scope of these limited terms, and fought vigorously to keep their highly advanced nuclear infrastructure in place.
That was under a more ‘moderate’ regime.
They continued their destabilizing activities and support for terrorism in the greater Middle East with abandon. So today, I ask why we would try to simply go back to the JCPOA – a deal that was not sufficient in the first place – and still doesn’t address some of the most serious national security concerns we have.
Let me lay out specific concerns about the parameters of the JCPOA, which it appears the Biden administration is seeking to reestablish.
For decades now, Iran has pursued all three elements necessary to create and to deliver a nuclear weapon.
Producing nuclear material for a weapon. The fissile material. That is basically what we just talked about – being three to four weeks away.
The scientific research and development to build a nuclear warhead. That’s why we don’t know the full dimensions of what they were doing in terms of how advanced they got to the weaponization, the ability to have the nuclear warhead that makes the bomb go ‘boom.’
The ballistic missiles to deliver them. That, they already had.
If you think about it, they have the missiles capable of delivering, they are on the verge of having the fissile material necessary to create an explosion. The only question is the warhead. At what point are they there? And we don’t fully know.
Since the Trump administration exited the deal, Iran has installed more than 1,000 advanced centrifuges, enabling it to enrich uranium more quickly.
While the deal the U.S. and our partners are pursuing in Vienna would ostensibly seek to reverse technological advancements, the acquisition of knowledge is never reversible.
As Kelsey Davenport of the Arms Control Association has said, Iran’s nuclear program hit new milestones over the past years. ‘As it masters these new capabilities, it will change our understanding about how the country may pursue nuclear weapons down the road.’
Madam President, this is exactly why the United States’ and our partners’ starting position, during our original negotiations, was the complete dismantlement of Iran’s enrichment facilities and capacity.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has produced uranium enriched to more than 60 percent purity at the Natanz facility.
Why is 60 percent purity so alarming?
Well, as the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Association – the UN international watchdog on these issues – Rafael Grossi has stated, Iran’s decision to enrich uranium to 60 percent to produce uranium metal has no justification for civilian purposes. Iran says, ‘we only want nuclear energy for domestic energy consumption.’ But as the IAEA’s head says, it has no justification to enrich uranium to 60 percent for civilian purposes.
In other words, Iran has already done most of the heavy lifting.
Furthermore, the IAEA reports that Iran’s nuclear stockpile has grown to nearly 2,500 kilograms. That’s nearly two and half a tons of enriched uranium and eight times the cap agreed to in the JCPOA.
More and more advanced centrifuges, a much larger nuclear stockpile, and vastly higher levels of enrichment are a dangerous combination.
As I noted before, Iran’s breakout time is now a mere three-to-four weeks.
And according to a report from David Albright and others at the Institute for Science and International Security, Iran could enrich enough uranium for a second weapon in less than four months.
Once they hit this breakout period, which is four weeks away, then to get their second bomb, we are talking about four months.
So, while the U.S. has recognized Iran’s right to civilian nuclear power, Iran’s behavior continues to indicate that it is actively moving towards developing nuclear weapons capabilities.
Adding to the alarm is the fact that we don’t even have the full picture of exactly how far it’s gone. Again, that’s why full access was and is such a critical component of any kind of deal.
As the original deal was being negotiated, we started from a place of ‘anywhere, anytime’ inspections that we want. But that’s not where the deal landed.
And while I realize that other factors have contributed to Iran’s efforts to block inspectors, simply put, I was not satisfied in 2015 with the level of visibility the agreement afforded. And today, indeed, the IAEA readily states it does not have the necessary level of access.
In fact, in September 2021, IAEA Director Rafael Grossi warned that Iran’s failure to fully cooperate and communicate with the IAEA is ‘seriously compromising’ the IAEA’s ability to have full insight into Iran’s program.
IAEA inspectors were denied access three times to the Karaj centrifuge component production facility in their efforts to install new surveillance cameras to monitor Iranian activities.
In addition, Iran is not cooperating with the IAEA’s ongoing two-year-old investigation into the presence of nuclear materials found at four locations outside of Iran’s declared nuclear program sites.
Iran has allowed access to two of these locations but has denied or delayed access to the other two.
The IAEA has warned Iran multiple times that their ‘lack of substantive engagement’ in resolving these issues ‘seriously affects the agency’s ability to provide assurance of the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.’
But Iran’s obstruction has gone beyond reneging on the inspection protocols agreed to in the JCPOA.
As I mentioned previously, in February of last year Iran suspended implementation of the Additional Protocol.
Following that suspension, the IAEA managed an arrangement where Tehran agreed to certain surveillance activities.
But, even though there was an agreement, it refused to transmit any data from that surveillance until it got all the sanctions relief the regime felt entitled to under the JCPOA.
Never mind their own repeated failure to meet their obligations under the JCPOA.
Madam President, we are not dealing with a good faith actor here.
Iran’s consistent obfuscation, continual stalling, and outlandish demands have left us flying blind.
Especially when it comes to verifying that Iran is not engaged in activities related to the weaponization process – activities related to the design and development of a nuclear explosive device – activities which were explicitly banned in Section T of the JCPOA.
I’m talking about utilizing computer models for simulating nuclear explosions, developing the diagnostic equipment for nuclear testing, and researching conventional explosives for triggering a nuclear explosion.
The JCPOA banned these activities because substantial evidence indicated Iran pursued them in the past.
Yet we cannot verify whether Iran is pursuing them again. We cannot know for sure because the Iranian government has repeatedly stated the IAEA lacks the authority to inspect the very military sites where these activities took place, the activities which the IAEA has wanted to go to, but has been denied.
With Iran’s breakout time now less than a month, we must be able to verify the scope of Iran’s weaponization research.
This must include Iran’s ballistic missile program.
We already know that Iran has ballistic missiles that could carry a warhead to the Middle East and parts of Europe.
Indeed, given how far Iran’s enrichment capabilities and research and development have advanced, the only element left is preventing Iran from weaponizing its stockpile.
All of this contributes to why we have a well-founded, deep mistrust of Iran’s willingness to seriously curtail its nuclear program, and of course Iran keeps reminding the United States and our Arab Gulf partners that its missile program presents its own unique threats outside of the nuclear file.
I remain highly skeptical it will suspend any of its other threatening and destabilizing activities, from ballistic missile development to support for terrorist proxies.
Even as the United States, our P5+1 partners and Iran convened in Vienna for indirect negotiations about returning to the JCPOA, Iran’s leaders took it upon themselves to antagonize all parties and show – in my view – their true intentions.
In December, they launched a rocket with a satellite carrier into space to remind us all that even as they drag out diplomatic negotiations, their ambition remains acquiring the ability to eventually deliver a nuclear warhead.
This launch was yet another provocation like those we’ve seen over the past several years, some of which directly violate the terms of UNSCR 2231. That resolution codified the JCPOA – our agreement with Iran – and plenty of others that are far outside the limited scope of the deal.
Beyond this failed launch into space, Iran’s dangerous behavior has hit closer to home.
In recent years, Iran has increased direct threats to U.S. personnel and assets, and continued providing weapons to terrorist proxies throughout the Middle East.
The U.S. Intelligence Community last year assessed that ‘Iran and its militant allies continue to plot terrorist attacks against U.S. persons and interests … Iran has the largest ballistic missile force in the region ...[and] is increasingly active in using cyberspace to enable influence operations.’
The Center for Strategic and International Studies reports that Iran not only has the largest and most diverse ballistic missile program in the region, but it has also used those ballistic missiles to attack U.S. personnel stationed in Iraq, personnel who, let’s be clear, have been there at the invitation of the Iraqi government.
While our last president made light of what he called ‘headaches,’ the fact is nearly a dozen service members suffered from traumatic brain injuries during the attack on Al-Asad Airbase in 2020.
And already this year, there have been three rocket and drone attacks, with public reports of 14 rockets hitting an Iraqi air base hosting U.S. forces and wounding two American service members.
Allow me to share an article in the New Yorker by Robin Wright entitled, ‘The Looming Threat of a Nuclear Crisis with Iran.’
She writes of a conversation with CENTCOM Commander General Kenneth McKenzie in which he said:
‘The lesson of Al Asad… is that Iran’s missiles have become a more immediate threat than its nuclear program. For decades, Iran’s rockets and missiles were wildly inaccurate. At Al Asad, “they hit pretty much where they wanted to hit,” Now they “can strike effectively across the breadth and depth of the Middle East. They could strike with accuracy, and they could strike with volume.”’
The article continues:
‘The regime has concentrated on developing missiles with longer reach, precision accuracy, and greater destructive power. Iran is now one of the world’s top missile producers. Its arsenal is the largest and most diverse in the Middle East, the Defense Intelligence Agency reported.’
Now, as President Biden’s Special Envoy on the question of negotiations on a potential return to the JCPOA Robert Malley has said,
Iran has proven that using its ballistic-missile program as a means to coerce or intimidate its neighbors is a real challenge.
‘Iran can fire more missiles than its adversaries—including the United States and Israel—can shoot down or destroy.’
‘Tehran has achieved what McKenzie calls “overmatch”—a level of capability in which a country has weaponry that makes it extremely difficult to check or defeat. “Iran’s strategic capacity is now enormous,” McKenzie said. “They’ve got overmatch in the theatre—the ability to overwhelm.”’
‘Iran now has the largest known underground complexes in the Middle East housing nuclear and missile programs.’
‘Most of the tunnels are in the west, facing Israel, or on the southern coast, across from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf sheikhdoms. This fall, satellite imagery tracked new underground construction near Bakhtaran, the most extensive complex.’
‘The tunnels, carved out of rock, descend more than sixteen hundred feet underground. Some complexes reportedly stretch for miles. Iran calls them “missile cities.”’
‘A recording of General Suleimani echoes in the background: “You start this war, but we create the end of it.”’
‘An underground railroad ferries Emad missiles for rapid successive launches. Emads have a range of a thousand miles and can carry a conventional or a nuclear warhead.’
‘The Islamic Republic has thousands of ballistic missiles, according to U.S. intelligence assessments.’
They can reach – and we can see in this map, there are different missiles. How far can they reach? Furthest, 2000 kilometers.
‘They can reach as far as thirteen hundred miles in any direction—deep into India and China to the east; high into Russia to the north; to Greece and other parts of Europe to the west; and as far south as Ethiopia, in the Horn of Africa,’ and dozens of countries in between.
‘About a hundred missiles could reach Israel.’
‘The Biden administration has hoped to use progress on the nuclear deal to eventually broaden diplomacy and include Iran’s neighbors in talks on reducing regional tensions.’
Wright then again quotes Special Envoy on Iran Rob Malley, as saying:
‘“Even if we can revive the J.C.P.O.A., those problems are going to continue to poison the region and risk destabilizing it.”’
‘“If they continue, the response will be robust.”’
‘It may be too late. Tehran has shown no willingness to barter over its missiles as it has with its nuclear program.’
She also quotes Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on missile proliferation at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, who said:
‘“Once you have spent the money to build the facilities and train people and deliver missiles to the military units that were built around these missiles, you have an enormous constituency that wants to keep them.”’
‘“I don’t think there’s any hope of limiting Iran’s missile program.”’
‘President Raisi told reporters after his election, “Regional issues or the missile issue are non-negotiable.”’
‘The United States military is still vastly more powerful than anything built or imagined in Iran. Yet Iran has proved to be an increasingly shrewd rival.’
‘It has trained a generation of foreign engineers and scientists to assemble weaponry.’
‘It has dispatched stateless dhows loaded with missile parts for Houthi rebels, who have fired missiles at military and civilian targets in Saudi Arabia.’
‘It has provided the older “dumb” rocket technology to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The majority of the “precision project” kits crossing at Abu Kamal go to Lebanon, where Hezbollah upgrades its short-range rockets and missiles to hit more accurately and to penetrate more deeply inside Israel.’
‘Hezbollah is now estimated to have at least fourteen thousand missiles and more than a hundred thousand rockets, most courtesy of Iran.’
As McKenzie says, “They have the ability to strike very precisely into Israel in a way they’ve not enjoyed in the past.”’
I shared this article on the floor today because I believe it captures the gravity of our present reality, and I encourage all of our colleagues to read it.
Beyond what Wright has laid out with excellent sources and details, let’s also not forget that Iran continues to be a steady fighting partner for the murderous Bashar Al-Assad regime in Syria, all the while expanding its military footprint along our ally Israel’s northern border.
And let’s not forget all this belligerent behavior has escalated despite the ballistic restrictions under UN Security Council Resolution 2231.
Madam President, Resolution 2331 was the framework that endorsed the JCPOA and imposed other restrictions.
Just think of where Iran will go when these restrictions expire next year. They expire under existing law next year.
Beyond this alarming aggression throughout the region, within its borders Iran continues to remind the world it has no respect for human rights.
It is a country where dissidents and activists who want a better future are persecuted and killed.
Indeed, just last January, Baktash Abtin, a prominent Iranian poet and human right activist who was jailed for ‘propaganda against the state’ died in the notorious Evin prison from COVID-19.
Iran’s judicial system is a sham that denies basic human rights like freedom of expression and condones torture and extrajudicial killings.
Last year, the U.S. Justice Department indicted four Iranians for conspiring to kidnap and kill Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinehad, surveilling her daily activities in Brooklyn, New York. Here on American soil.
And we cannot forget the four American citizens who Iran continues to wrongfully detain – Babak and Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi, and Morad Tabhaz – who are suffering in prison – whose family members are desperately seeking their return.
It is against this backdrop of bad behavior that Iran is ostensibly negotiating a return to the JCPOA, or maybe just dragging out the time.
It took years of crushing U.S. and international sanctions to bring Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. I know because I was the author of many of them. We had to remain united in order to bring them to the table. Now, we have to remain united as well.
I have been cautiously optimistic about the Biden administration’s initial efforts. I waited for the last year to see results.
Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Secretary of State and others, senior members of the Administration, insisted they would look for a ‘longer and stronger’ agreement.
I have a pretty good sense of what I think ‘longer’ and ‘stronger’ means. ‘Longer’ is obvious, more time. ‘Stronger’ – dealing with elements that had not been previously dealt with.
However, a year later, I have yet to hear any parameters of ‘longer’ or ‘stronger’ terms or whether that is even a feasible prospect.
And even when it seemed a constructive agreement might be possible last summer, upon taking office, the Raisi government abandoned all previous understandings and, as I mentioned, made absolutely clear that Iran’s ballistic missiles and regional proxy networks are ‘not negotiable.’
Moreover, at this point, we seriously have to ask what exactly are we trying to salvage?
Iran has moved so far out of compliance with so many of the terms of the JCPOA and of the terms of UNSCR 2231.
Meanwhile, the arms embargo that we had has already expired and restrictions on Iran’s missile program are about to expire next year.
To quote again Rob Malley, the President’s Iran negotiator, trying to revive the deal at this point would be ‘tantamount to trying to revive a dead corpse.’
I think he’s right.
It’s time to start thinking out of the box and consider new strategies for rolling back Iran’s nuclear program and addressing its dangerous and nefarious activities.
These new efforts should include creative diplomatic initiatives, stricter sanctions enforcement, and a steely determination from Congress to back up President Biden’s declaration that Iran will ‘never get a nuclear weapon on my watch.’
One critical first step is vigorously enforcing the sanctions we have in place.
A few weeks ago, the Washington Post reported on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ extensive oil smuggling operations throughout the Persian Gulf. ‘Smuggled Iranian fuel and secret nighttime transfers: Seafarers recount how it’s done.’
And I was pleased to see that the Treasury Department dispatched a senior official to the United Arab Emirates to help stop it.
More significantly, and despite what it says publicly, numerous reports also suggest that China continues to buy Iranian crude oil at a discount – a lucrative lifeline for the Iranian regime that both subverts international oil markets and gives China yet another inroad into the Middle East.
Using a sophisticated web of shipping, delivery, and tanker flagging techniques, private energy analysts – here’s where we see their abilities in this space here to make these transfers that ultimate go to China – through tanker flagging techniques, private energy analysts estimate China bought an average between 350,000 and 650,000 barrels per day last year and according to United Against Nuclear Iran this amounted to roughly ten billion dollars going to the regime, in violation of existing sanctions.
We cannot turn a blind eye to these violations.
The Biden administration must rigorously enforce our sanctions, including targeting Chinese entities in a way that will impose a serious cost.
We must use our sanctions to crush the illicit, underground economy of Iranian oil shipments throughout the world.
The international community must also leverage a full range of tools.
We have to urge our P5+1 partners to call for snapback sanctions on Iran under the parameters of the JCPOA. And we should be urging the EU to re-impose its pre-JCPOA sanctions on Iran.
Of course, we must be realistic here. Former President Trump’s disastrous withdrawal from the JCPOA hampered our ability on the sanctions front.
Indeed, when former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went to the UN in the summer of 2020 and attempted to invoke the snapback mechanism our European partners and the rest of the P5+1 roundly rejected him and pointed out that the United States – from their view – did not even have the standing to do so having exited the deal. But that was then.
That said, I believe the Biden administration has diligently worked to build back trust and cooperation with our partners and I believe the remaining parties must look at the facts and officially invoke the snapback mechanism to send a strong signal to the Iranians.
But we must also be thinking beyond the JCPOA.
It’s worth noting that even though President Trump’s withdrawal, from my view, was a serious strategic error, nothing technically constrained his ability to do so.
Iran’s leaders insist that they want a guarantee that the United States will not withdraw from any future agreement.
As these negotiations continue, the best guarantee of a sustainable, diplomatic agreement with Iran and the international community is to build one that garners bipartisan political support.
One such idea that I have been working on with Senator Graham is a regional nuclear fuel bank that would provide Iran with access to fuel on the condition it forgoes all domestic uranium enrichment and reprocessing.
This idea may sound lofty, but it’s worth noting that the IAEA already runs a nuclear fuel bank that provides access to members in the event of a disruption to their existing fuel arrangements.
Iranian leaders have long maintained their nuclear program is for domestic energy development.
And yet it belies logic that Iran would need to highly enrich uranium or undertake any number of the steps they have been taking over the past few years for a purely peaceful nuclear energy program, to say nothing of the fact that Iran was the fifth-largest crude oil producer in OPEC in 2020 and the third largest natural gas producer in the world in 2019. It has an abundance of natural resources for energy purposes within its own country.
It doesn’t need nuclear fuel for domestic energy consumption. But if you accept that we want to keep our oil and gas to sell and we want nuclear power for the purposes of domestic energy consumption, fine then. Why do you bury your program thousands of feet under a mountain? Why do you hide what you are doing? Why are you enriching to a grade that even the IAEA says has no civilian purpose whatsoever? Why won’t you show us that in fact your previous actions, which we believe may lead to weaponization, exist? Why won’t you show us? Dispel it.
But this kind of arrangement we are talking about would surely satisfy the need for a peaceful nuclear program.
While we understand there have been both political and logistical challenges regarding this kind of proposal in the past, we don’t believe we should close any potential doors.
We believe our proposal opens new doors because while we’re just now talking about Iran – we’ve been having this conversation with our P5+1 allies and Iran – in a bilateral arrangement because of our concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, we could be talking about the entire region.
We have successfully negotiated nuclear cooperation agreements with a number of countries in the region on a bilateral basis, including Jordan and the UAE.
In the future, such a fuel bank – a regional fuel bank – could even be expanded to guarantee that any Arabian Gulf state, or further beyond in the Middle East for that matter, can peacefully fuel its commercial nuclear reactors through the IAEA fuel bank. That means, you don’t enrich, but you get the fuel necessary if you want domestic energy consumption.
Of course, regional investment into any diplomatic solution – from Gulf countries and Arab neighbors and Israel – is absolutely critical for success.
Just as we know our sanctions are most effective when we work with other international partners, multilateral cooperation is critical to finding a successful outcome.
Particularly - what would be attractive to the Iranian regime?
What should be attractive is that this arrangement would decouple the view that the West is only seeking this arrangement from Iran.
Iran would not have to give up its right to enrich, but would without a loss of national pride delegate that right to a multilateral nuclear fuel bank.
And by including other Gulf countries in such a regional fuel bank with the same terms and conditions, Iran would not have to worry about other Gulf countries attaining nuclear weapons and posing a security threat to them.
Finally, If we can succeed at a regional nuclear fuel bank, we would stop a nuclear race in what is already a tinderbox of the world. If Iran can acquire a nuclear weapon, you can be sure that the other countries in the Gulf, they will say that ‘under the theory of mutually assured destruction, I have to have nuclear weapons too.’ Now we begin an arms race in a part of the world that can ill afford it.
As we look to a new approach, I also believe we should revisit a number of the proposals I laid out in 2015.
First, we should seek the immediate ratification by Iran of the Additional Protocol to ensure that we have a permanent international agreement with Iran for access to suspect sites.
Second, we need a ban on centrifuge R&D for the duration of such an agreement – because it is that advanced R&D that has allowed Iran to be four weeks away from crossing the nuclear threshold so that Iran cannot have the capacity to quickly breakout. Just as the UN Security Council Resolution and sanctions snapback is off the table.
Third, Iran should close the Fordow enrichment facility. After all, the sole purpose of Fordow was to harden Iran’s nuclear program to a military attack. But if Iran has nothing to hide, and it is all for peaceful purposes, why do you put it deep underneath a mountain?
Fourth, the world needs full resolution of the ‘possible military dimensions’ of Iran’s program.
We need an arrangement that isn’t set up to whitewash this issue. The world needs to be able to go to sleep at night saying ‘Iran has not achieved the ability to weaponize its desires.’
Iran and the IAEA must resolve the issue before permanent sanctions relief takes place. Should Iran fail to cooperate with a comprehensive review into the military dimensions of their program, then automatic sanctions must snapback.
Fifth, rather than extend the duration of the agreement, we need a permanent agreement. One of the single most concerning elements of the original deal is its 10-15 year sunset of restrictions on Iran’s program, with off ramps starting after year 8. Think about it. 2015 to 2022. Seven years. Shows you how quickly Iran can be proceeding in a way we do not want them to be able to proceed.
And sixth, we need agreement 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. Everybody should be in the same boat.
We’re seeing now that without these elements clearly delineated, there is room for interpretation and mischief.
I believe there is space for a deal with Iran. And I believe that one that garners bipartisan support would be the best guarantor of the political longevity the Iranians insist they want.
Our goal must be the right deal, not just any deal. We must not again agree to an arrangement that merely delays the inevitable.
As we think about broader diplomatic options, we must be clear about what a good negotiation entails: getting more obviously requires giving more.
If Iran were willing to make greater concessions on halting uranium enrichment, destroying nuclear infrastructure, and seriously constraining its ballistic missile program, the United States and the international community should consider lifting a broader scope of sanctions, potentially including some primary sanctions.
While Iran’s leaders are scraping by in the resistance economy, the truth is that the whole country would be better off if the regime abandoned their enrichment and weaponization efforts and focused on providing everyday Iranians with real economic opportunity.
At the same time, Iran must also fully understand that the United States will not hesitate to take any action necessary to protect our interests and those of our allies, and that includes the use of military force where appropriate and necessary.
One of our greatest strengths is our enduring security partnerships with nearly every country in the Middle East region.
Last month a group of senior bipartisan diplomats, military officers, and former members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, issued a statement through the Washington Institute for Near East Policy about the importance of a credible military threat should Iran breach certain red lines.
Let me quote from their statement.
They wrote ‘Indeed, the Vienna negotiations are in danger of becoming a cover for Iran to move toward achieving a threshold nuclear weapons capability…While the United States has recognized Iran’s right to civilian nuclear power, Iran’s behavior continues to indicate that it not only wants to preserve a nuclear weapons option but is actively moving toward developing that capability.’
‘Indeed, as the director general of the International Atomic Energy Association, Rafael Grossi, has stated, Iran’s decision to enrich uranium to 60 percent and to produce uranium metal has no justifiable civilian purpose.’
‘Without convincing Iran it will suffer severe consequences if it stays on its current path, there is little reason to hope for the success of diplomacy.’
‘Therefore, for the sake of our diplomatic effort to resolve this crisis, we believe it is vital to restore Iran’s fear that its current nuclear path will trigger the use of force against it by the United States. The challenge is how to restore U.S. credibility in the eyes of Iran’s leaders. Words—including formulations that are more pointed and direct than “all options are on the table”—are also necessary but not sufficient.’
‘In that context, we believe it is important for the Biden administration to take steps that lead Iran to believe that persisting in its current behavior and rejecting a reasonable diplomatic resolution will put to risk its entire nuclear infrastructure, one built painstakingly over the last three decades.’
‘Such steps may include orchestrating high-profile military exercises by the U.S. Central Command, potentially in concert with allies and partners, that simulate what would be involved in such a significant operation, including rehearsing air-to-ground attacks on hardened targets and the suppression of Iranian missile batteries.’
‘Also important would be to provide both local allies and partners as well as U.S. installations and assets in the region with enhanced defensive capabilities to counter whatever retaliatory actions Iran might choose to make, thereby signaling our readiness to act, if necessary.’
‘Perhaps most significantly, fulfilling past U.S. promises to act forcefully against other Iranian outrages, such as the drone attack by Iran-backed militias against the U.S. base at al-Tanf in Syria and Iran’s illegal capture of merchant ships and killing unarmed seamen, might have the salutary impact of underscoring the seriousness of U.S. commitments to act on the nuclear issue.’
Again, I encourage everyone to read this statement from congressional colleagues, military leaders, and diplomats on both sides of the aisle.
Last year, following years of quiet cooperation and narrowing of shared security concerns, the United States and our partners and allies welcomed Israel into the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility.
We have a number of shared interests – from maritime security to confronting a growing threat of ballistic missiles and UAVs – and we must continue to strengthen our bilateral and regional partnerships to ensure that we have all means necessary to protect our interests.
Moreover, we must forcefully and proportionately respond to Iran’s ongoing attacks on our diplomatic and military facilities in Iraq and Syria. We will not fail to respond against direct attacks on the United States that threaten our diplomats and service members. Full stop.
Let me close by saying that the Iranian nuclear threat is real and has grown disproportionately worse day by day.
It is becoming a clear and present danger. The time is now to reinvigorate our multilateral sanctions efforts and pursue new avenues, new ideas, new solutions for a diplomatic resolution.
Today I call on the Biden administration and the international community to vigorously and rigorously enforce sanctions, which have proven to be among of our most potent tools for impacting Iran’s leaders and the IRGC.
We cannot allow Iran to threaten us into a bad deal or an interim agreement that allows it to continue to build its nuclear capacity.
Nor should we cling to the scope of an agreement that it seems some are holding on to for nostalgia’s sake.
As I said seven years ago, hope is not a national security strategy. In the words that I spoke in 2015:
‘Whether or not the supporters of the agreement admit it, this deal is based on "hope” – hope that – when the nuclear sunset clause expires – Iran will have succumbed to the benefits of commerce and global integration. Well, they have not.
Hope that the hardliners will have lost their power and the revolution will end its hegemonic goals. They have not.
And hope that the regime will allow the Iranian people to decide their own future. The hardliners are more entrenched and they have not allowed the Iranian people to decide that future.
Hope is part of human nature, but unfortunately it is not a national security strategy.
The Iranian regime, led by the Ayatollah, wants above all to preserve the regime and its Revolution, unlike the Green Revolution of 2009. This is still true.
So it stretches incredulity to believe they signed on to a deal that would in any way weaken the regime or threaten the goals of the Revolution. They will not.
I understand that this deal represents a trade-off, a hope that things may be different in Iran in 10-15 years.
Maybe Iran will desist from its nuclear ambitions. But it has not.
Maybe they'll stop exporting and supporting terrorism. But it has not.
Maybe they'll stop holding innocent Americans hostage. But they have not.
Maybe they'll stop burning American flags. But it has not.
And maybe their leadership will stop chanting ‘Death to America’ in the streets of Tehran. But it has not.
Or the hope was maybe they won’t do those things. They have continued to do all of those things.
While there are so many crises brewing around the world, we cannot abandon our efforts to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran and the arms race it would surely set off in the Middle East.
We cannot ignore Iran’s nefarious support for terrorism or accept threats to American interests and lives.
We must welcome legitimate and verifiably peaceful uses of nuclear power, but remain true to our nonproliferation principles and our unyielding desire to build a more stable, safer, prosperous world for the American people and all peace-loving people to thrive.
In order to do so, Iran cannot and must not possess a nuclear weapon.”
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