WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following opening remarks at a committee hearing this morning titled, “An Examination of US-Iran Policy.”
Menendez used his remarks to elevate a request from all committee Democrats for Chairman Risch to allow the Committee to convene hearings on the Trump-Ukraine scandal, and also to highlight President Trump’s reported directive for the State Department to coordinate with Rudy Giuliani to free his client, Reza Zarrab, an international gold trader who helped Turkey violate U.S. sanctions on Iran.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing. Before we get to the hearing I just want to urge the Chair. Global events come at us fast and furiously. This committee historically has played a role in fashioning U.S. policy, and as we face the challenges in Ukraine and Syria. I hope that the Chairman [convenes the meeting], and I know that committee democrats have written to the Chair asking him for a hearing on Ukraine. I think that would be equitable for Syria. These are vitally important issues in terms of the foreign policy of the United States. The role that Russia is playing, Iran is playing, and so I certainly hope the chair will honor those requests and hold a hearing on both of those issues as expeditiously as possible.
Now this committee has not had a hearing on Iran since March 2017 – more than two and a half years ago which is unfortunate because it’s been one of the Administration’s biggest stated priorities, and one in which I believe there is at least a basis of bipartisan consensus from which we could work.
There is no doubt that an Iranian-enabled nuclear state would pose a serious threat to the United States and it’s our allies. There is equal agreement that Iranian malign activity throughout the Middle East, including through proxies and terrorist organizations is ongoing, dangerous and destabilizing. There is, I believe, also widespread agreement that the United States should utilize strategic diplomacy – including sanctions - with our international partners and allies to most effectively counter Iran.
As everyone on this committee knows, I did not support the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. But when the Trump Administration withdrew from the deal without a strategy and without partners, I worried that this unilateral approach would put our nation on a dangerous and lonely path that would ultimately leave Iran emboldened.
Well, Mr. Hook, I’m afraid to say I think I was right. Yes, the Iranian regime seems starved of some financial resources. But as far as I can tell, that is all. It would appear that beyond sanctions our maximum pressure campaign only extends to sending American troops to protect Saudi Arabia.
In fact, the rest of the Administration’s policies across the Middle East seem only to have emboldened Iran, harden its political supporters from Hezbollah to militias in Iraq, and most devastatingly and recently, help entrench itself in Bashar al-Assad’s Syria.
On the nuclear front, as it warned it would, Iran is now slowly winding back the nuclear restrictions the JCPOA imposed, putting it ever closer to weaponization.
You and your colleagues are quick to point out that Iran has pursued this malign activity in the region for more than forty years. Frankly I couldn’t agree more. But I don’t see your policies meaningfully changing that behavior.
You have said that the two goals of the maximum pressure campaign are to deprive the Iranian regime of money to stop its malign activity and to bring Iran back to the negotiating table. However, application of this policy is confusing; one minute the President is willing to make a deal, the next he is threatening to wipe out the Iranian economy.
You have utilized just about every sanctions authority available to you, but sanctions are only a viable tool if they are consistent.
For example, Reza Zarrab of HalkBank in Turkey was arrested in 2016 in connection with one of the largest Iran sanctions evasion schemes in history. However, while his criminal case was ongoing, we recently learned that the President and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani were trying to get him freed from prison.
I understand you were at least aware of these efforts. What does that say about the viability of American sanctions? Or this maximum pressure campaign?
The Iranians are holding out because they believe for now, they can. They will not come to the table for a Kim-Jong Un like photo op.
So my fundamental question for you, Mr. Hook, is, where are you on the harder, diplomatic part of this campaign? How have you utilized the pressure to get Iran to a negotiating table?
I also would like to live in a world where we could sanction Iran into stopping its support for terrorism, treating its own people with dignity and respect, into releasing all unjustly detained Americans, including Princeton University student Xiyue Wang.
But I live in the real world where I know that in order to make a deal you have to give something to get something. Now seems like the ideal time to harness the pressure you’ve created. I’m curious to know if you’ve laid out the parameters of a deal that Administration would accept including limitations on research and development, limitations on enrichment and stockpile amounts and whether or not you have any sense of what the Iranians will seek in relief from the United States. I’d like to know whether you have directly or indirectly, or through backchannels or other countries, sought to engage Iran in that regard.
So, Mr. Hook, let’s use our diplomatic tools as leverage for what we should be ultimately trying to achieve: a negotiated agreement with Iran, with buy in from our international partners to meaningfully constrain its nuclear program and address other malign activity.
A deal that includes permanent and long-term restrictions on Iran’s nuclear capacity, tackles its ballistic missile proliferation, and one that addresses its regional support for terrorism including through the transfer of weapons.
I look forward to hearing about your progress to address this ongoing and pressing national security priority.”