January 21, 2015

Corker Opening Statement at Hearing on Iran Nuclear Negotiations: "Status of Talks and the Role of Congress"

United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

Hearing: Iran Nuclear Negotiations: Status of Talks and the Role of Congress

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Chairman
Opening Statement

I'm going to call the meeting to order. And I would say to people in the audience that we would appreciate you refraining [from interjecting]. We understand people have strong emotions about much of what happens in this committee and others, and we hope you'll respect the work of the committee.

I have never operated a gavel. I learned as a young man how to operate a hammer. I understand my staff told me to be a little gentler with this, but I want to welcome everybody to the committee. We've switched sides. That was not symbolic. I understand just because of the number of seats it works better this way. I do want to welcome the new members of the committee and say that under Senator Menendez's leadership, I really believe that this committee has caused its profile to rise. We've passed a number of very important pieces of legislation out of this committee, and I think it's because of his leadership that that has happened. I want to thank him for that.

I want to say to all the committee members we plan to certainly build upon that. We have a number of very important issues to deal with. The nation has put its trust in us to deal with issues in a sober way. And I think the issue today that we'll be talking about really causes us to remind ourselves of the indispensable nature of U.S. leadership. I think this committee, like any committee, has important things to deal with, and we have urgent things to deal with; and we need to do both. It is important for us to continue as a committee to show the importance of strategic U.S. engagement and how that improves our economy and makes us safer here at home. At the same time we need to make sure our taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.

While it will take some time to build, I would like for us to work towards a State Department authorization. I think all of us know we haven't passed one since 2002. So what that means is the State Department basically is operating off of policies we passed 13 years ago. If we really want to leverage our efforts, what would make sense—and I look forward to working on this with Ranking Member Menendez—would be to make sure what the State Department is doing is leveraging its activities effectively in a way that produces outcomes we would like to see happen.

I don't want to shy away from difficult issues. This first hearing is certainly evidence of that. I want to make sure the views of all committee members are heard. I want to make sure we strengthen our nation in the process.

Today we're here to talk about Iran. And I want to say to our witnesses, thank you for being here. I think there are legitimate concerns by almost everybody on this committee, and it's not in any way disloyal; it's not an infringement upon anybody else to say we have legitimate concerns. When you think about where we are with the Iran negotiations, we had six U.N. Security Council resolutions that called for full suspension of enrichment. We then moved to this standard called “practical needs”. In other words, if you're in Iran and you want to enrich, even though that’s in violation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions, what are the “practical needs” of the country? By all estimation that's maybe 500 centrifuges, yet we know the negotiations have moved way beyond that. We know that. We have talked about dismantlement, and we have concerns of what dismantlement now means. Some people say it's disconnecting the plumbing of centrifuges, to use very coarse terms.

People are concerned about research and development. We spend a lot of time talking about IR-1s and IR-2s, and yet we know the Iranians are way beyond that. We’re talking about IR-6s, IR-8s—way beyond that in research and development. The agreement itself doesn't speak at all to ballistic missile development. These are significant concerns for all of us.

And although I'm not sure this is the case, I had a meeting last night, and maybe this is not true—I know some of you can enlighten us here today—but we're concerned about what we're really going to cause Iran to do relative to their possible military dimensions and past work. I think most of us think they were way down the road in their military development up until 2003, and I think we'd like to understand the type of technology that they have developed.

And I know this, and you all have shared this with us in all kinds of meetings, they [Iran] still are stiff-arming the IAEA relative to access to many of their facilities, which obviously continues to cause us to have great concerns about their trustworthiness.

I think all of us know they are destabilizing the region. We watch what is happening in Yemen. We watch what’s happening with Hezbollah and Iran. We watch what's happening with Hamas. We know that they are—even with the minor amounts of money that has been lessened from the sanctions regime that Senator Menendez and Senator Kirk and all of us worked together to put in place—even with that minor amount of money, we know their ability to destabilize the region has been enhanced. We know that. And you can imagine if we end up with a really bad deal that ends up creating a nuclear arms race in the region and making the world less safe; and yet much more money would be released, and they [Iran] can even destabilize the region more. So obviously there are significant concerns.

I'm proposing some legislation, and I look forward to hearing from you all today. We're vetting it with people on this committee that builds off the 123 agreements that we have in place right now. Senator Markey’s very familiar with this. Twenty-seven times this nation has approved a 123 agreement with another nation under a civil nuclear arrangement, and when you all reach an agreement with a country, we approve it.

Secretary Kerry came in and said he wants to make sure any agreement that happens [with Iran] passes muster with Congress. I'd like to understand today how you'd like to see this agreement pass muster. One way to do it is an up-or-down vote. I know there have been a lot of discussions—I know Senator Menendez will speak to this—a lot of discussions about what we might do and we might not do.

I have talked to Prime Minister Cameron. I talked to the European Union negotiator last night in my office. Some of us were in Israel this weekend discussing this very same issue. We have heard no one, no one say that if Congress were to weigh in on the final agreement it would in any way destabilize negotiations. As a matter of fact, we understand Iran's parliament may have to approve their agreement.

So I hope today you'll share with us the appropriate role for us to play. We obviously have our own thoughts. We thank you for being here. With that I'm sorry to give such a long opening comment. 

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For full details on the hearing and archive footage, visit: https://www.foreign.senate.gov/hearings/iran-nuclear-negotiations-status-of-talks-and-the-role-of-congress.