May 25, 2022

SFRC Chairman Menendez Opening Remarks at Hearing on JCPOA Negotiations and United States Policy on Iran Moving Forward

“I think we must prepare for the increasingly obvious reality we face in 2022: a return to the 2015 nuclear deal is not around the corner, and it is not in the U.S.’ strategic interest.”

WASHINGTON –  U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following opening remarks at this morning’s full Committee hearing on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) Negotiations and United States policy on Iran moving forward. Testifying before the Committee were Special Envoy for Iran Mr. Robert Malley; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Senior Fellow Mr. Karim Sadjadpour; and Chief Executive Officer for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Mr. Mark Dubowitz.

“I appreciate your appearance today, Mr. Malley, and appreciate your service to our country, and I appreciate the Administration’s efforts in attempting to negotiate a ‘longer and stronger’ JCPOA, but the facts are the facts. As we meet here on May 25, 2022, Iran is closer than ever to developing a nuclear weapon. It is on the brink of enriching enough 60 percent uranium for a nuclear weapon. The Iran of May 2022 is a much more dangerous threat and is a far less interested party in negotiating than the Iran of 2015,” Chairman Menendez said. “The United States must demonstrate we have the will, as well as military capabilities if absolutely necessary, to defend our people and our interests. We must back up President Biden’s statement that Iran will ‘never get a nuclear weapon on my watch.’ I think we must prepare for the increasingly obvious reality we face in 2022: a return to the 2015 nuclear deal is not around the corner, and it is not in the U.S.’ strategic interest. We need to tackle what comes next. We need to hear your plan.”

Find a copy of Chairman Menendez’s remarks as delivered below:

“I appreciate your appearance today, Mr. Malley, and appreciate your service to our country, and I appreciate the Administration’s efforts in attempting to negotiate a ‘longer and stronger’ JCPOA, but the facts are the facts. As we meet here on May 25, 2022, Iran is closer than ever to developing a nuclear weapon. It is on the brink of enriching enough 60 percent uranium for a nuclear weapon. The Iran of May 2022 is a much more dangerous threat and is a far less interested party in negotiating than the Iran of 2015. 

A deal under which Iran has far less than a six month breakout time, with sanctions relief in return that will unlock millions of dollars, and no sunset extensions, is definitely not longer and stronger. It is shorter and weaker.

Now clearly this reality is, in part, due to President Trump’s decision to walk away from the JCPOA, without a plan, a strategy, or with any allies alongside. The U.S. having left the agreement, Iran decided it no longer needed to abide by it, and rushed forward with accelerating its enrichment capabilities to the doorstep of nuclear grade uranium. Iran made this decision even though our European allies had stayed in the deal.

As the Administration worked with our allies to negotiate a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran worked to stockpile nuclear material.

As the Administration negotiated, Iranian drones, loaded with ball bearings and shrapnel, hit American facilities.

As the Administration negotiated, Iran has developed what former CENTCOM commander General Frank McKenzie says is ‘overmatch’ in its ballistic missile program; so it can launch more missiles than the United States and our partners can shoot down.

Missiles that Iran points at U.S. troops in the region.

Missiles that Iran points at our ally, the State of Israel, which Iranian leaders have said should be ‘wiped off the face of the earth.’

Meanwhile, Iran unlawfully detains American citizens and citizens of our European allies on trumped up charges for political chits.

And lest we forget, Iran oppresses, abuses, and violates the human rights of its own citizens.

In short, Iran has dragged out this process, driving up its demands and exerting its leverage, convincing the world that the United States wants the JCPOA more than the Iranian regime does.

After months of negotiations, this is the Iran we must contend with, not the Iran you hoped would be driven by practical considerations at the bargaining table.

Today’s Iran is buoyed by China, who, it is reported, just in April imported 650,000 barrels a day of oil from Iran. Oil which should be subject to U.S. sanctions. Even at discounted prices, this has resulted in a flood of cash for the regime – tens of millions of dollars per day.

Today, Iran is protected by Russia. Iran thinks it has options. If Iran wants to extract a better deal or concede less than U.S. national security demands, it can turn to its autocratic allies.

The Administration said months ago that without a return to the original 2015 agreement by the end of last February, the nonproliferation benefits of the deal would be greatly diminished. To quote Secretary Blinken, on January 21, 2022 – four months ago – ‘the talks with Iran about a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA have reached a decisive moment.  If a deal is not reached in the next few weeks, Iran’s ongoing nuclear advances will make it impossible to return to the JCPOA.’

It’s late May – three months later than that determination – so how is it Iran is still advancing its nuclear program by leaps and bounds? The knowledge Iran is gaining from these advancements can never be erased, and we continue to wait, and hope, but hope is not a national security strategy.

I believe in a diplomatic path. But we must ask: using every tool we have, how do we serve the U.S. strategic interest here? If Iran were to ‘break out’ tomorrow, what is the U.S. prepared to do? If Iran begins to enrich uranium to 90 percent, what is the U.S. prepared to do? Using every bit of leverage and deterrence, how do we stop Iran from mastering the weaponization for a nuclear device?

I want to hear the Administration’s plans to better enforce the sanctions regime we have put into place that now leaks like a sieve.

I want to hear your plans for working in lock step with our European and other allies around the globe to sharpen Iran’s choices.

I would like to hear the Administration’s plans, in detail, for what the Administration is prepared to do to stop the growing oil trade between Iran and China, and Iran’s oil trade with Venezuela and Syria.

I want to hear your plans for how to end Iran’s hostage-taking of our citizens.

I want to hear your plans for how the Administration is going to bring home Americans wrongfully detained in Iran – Siamak and Baquer Namazi, Emad Shargi, Morad Tahbaz. With or without the JCPOA. And we can never forget about Bob Levinson and his family.

I want to hear your plans to bolster the security of our partners in the region so they can defend themselves with or without a return to the JCPOA.

The United States must demonstrate we have the will, as well as military capabilities if absolutely necessary, to defend our people and our interests. We must back up President Biden’s statement that Iran will ‘never get a nuclear weapon on my watch.’

I think we must prepare for the increasingly obvious reality we face in 2022: a return to the 2015 nuclear deal is not around the corner, and it is not in the U.S.’ strategic interest. We need to tackle what comes next. We need to hear your plan.

I hope your testimony today can begin to lay the groundwork of such a strategy.

If that plan includes the possibility of a deal with Iran, I want to make clear that it must be subject to congressional review under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015. Congress has and will continue to play an important role with respect to Iran policy, and I expect this Administration to follow the law.

With that let me turn to the Ranking Member for his comments.”

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