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Senator Corker Opening Statement at Hearing to Review the Iran Nuclear Agreement

Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Hearing to Review the Iran Nuclear Agreement

Senator Corker Opening Statement

July 23, 2015 

I want to start today by thanking our committee. We would not be here today and we would not have the information that we have today if we had not passed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. This would not be taking place.

I think the American people now understand what this debate was all about. When Congress put in place sanctions to bring Iran successfully to the table, as we did, we granted the executive branch something called a “national security waiver.” And what that meant was the executive branch had the ability to waive our congressionally-mandated sanctions, to suspend them until such a time as we permanently waive them down the road.

And as you know, unfortunately, over the objections of Senator Cardin and myself, the executive branch went directly to the United Nations on Monday morning—something that certainly was not in the spirit of this [law]—but this is what was always intended [by the administration].

I do want to say that while Secretary Kerry has often said, ‘Well, Congress will have the ability to weigh in at some point in time prior to this law being passed,’ which caused this hearing to happen today, [but] we now read the agreement and realize that what he meant was [that] eight years from now we would have the opportunity to weigh in because that’s what is stated in the agreement.

So, I want to thank everybody—all 19 members—for coming together unanimously making that happen and giving us a role. It’s a heavy lift as we know, but a role that did not exist prior to that [legislation] passing.

I have to say we had a briefing last night, and [when] I left there I talked to members on both sides of the aisle. I was fairly depressed after last night’s presentation. With every detail of the deal that was laid out, our witnesses successfully batted them away with the hyperbole that it’s either this deal or war.

I believe that to be hyperbole.

I know the secretary last night pulled out a letter that was written in 2008 by the prior administration. I don’t know if you’ll refer to it today. As I thought about it last night lying in bed, what he was really pointing out with that letter was, unless we give Iran what they want – X. I mean that’s what really that letter was used for last night. So, let me just walk through that. 

We’ve been through an incredible journey. We began 20 months or so ago with a country that was a rogue nation that had a boot on its neck, and our goal was to dismantle their program. We’ve ended up in a situation where the deal that’s on the table basically codifies the industrialization of their nuclear program. It’s an amazing, amazing transition that has occurred.

And yet, everyone here, there’s not a person in this room, including our witnesses, everyone here knows there’s not one practical need for the program that they’re building. Not one. Not one. We have not had a single scientist, not a single witness [that] can lay out reasoning, not a single reason for Iran to be developing this program from the standpoint of what it means to them from a civil standpoint. Not one.

Nine months after this agreement goes into effect, we realize that after Monday's U.N. adoption, unless Congress intervenes, in 90 days, this will be implemented. And then six months after that, so a total of nine months from now, all the sanctions that exist against Iran will be lifted. Incredible. Now, there will be a few remaining sanctions, but the big ones that matter will be lifted. So they'll [Iran] have access to billions and billions of dollars. Their economy will be growing. They'll be shipping all around the world. It's an amazing thing.

And so what happens—I think all of us figured this out as we went through the deal—right now, we have some leverage, but nine months from now, the leverage shifts to them, because we have a sanction snapback.

What they [Iran] have, if we ever tried to apply that, is what's called a nuclear snapback.

The way the deal is structured, they can immediately just begin. They can say, "Well, if you add sanctions, we're out of the deal." They can immediately snap back. So the leverage shifts to them.

The PMD piece, the possible military dimensions—I think most of us call it the “previous military dimensions” because we know they were involved in that—basically that has no bearing, no bearing per the agreement.

Now, I know our witness will say, "Well, if they don't deal with this properly, we won't implement [the sanctions relief].” But according to the agreement, it has no bearing whatsoever on whether the sanctions are removed or not. And yet that was such an important piece for everyone to know.

Anytime, anywhere inspections. Last night, we had witnesses saying, "I never said that." It's been a part of their [the administration’s] mantra from day one. It's been a part of their mantra from day one—the anytime, anywhere inspections.

Now we have a[n] [inspections] process that they're declaring 24 days, but we all know that's not right. Twenty-four days begins after, by the way, the IAEA has found violations that they're concerned about, and then you give Iran time to respond to that, and then by the time it kicks in, there is a 24-day process, but it could be months.

And as we know, in laboratories, when you're developing a nuclear warhead that is about this big, it's very easy to cover things up like that. And all the focus has been on finding uranium. There are other aspects of this that are very difficult to find.

I know they said this is the most comprehensive inspections regime that we've ever had. That's not true. That is not true.

I've talked to [former] secretaries of state and others. We had a far more comprehensive and rapid inspection program in Iraq. Far more. That certainly didn't serve us particularly well.

Ben [Senator Cardin] and I have written a letter asking for additional materials that we do not yet have. One of the items we don't have is regarding the agreement between Iran and the IAEA, and my sense is, we're never going to get that [text of the agreement].

So the inspection entity that we're relying upon to find out whether Iran is cheating, we're not even going to have access to that agreement.

But let me just say this. We do know one of the characteristics [of this agreement that] is very interesting. We have a professional athlete in Chattanooga that spends about a month there. He's an incredible role model. He has got incredible integrity. He's a role model to the world. And I was talking to him a couple of weeks ago about the program that professional athletes go through for drug testing. It's incredible. That is “anytime, anywhere.”

There are qualities to this [agreement] that, unfortunately, I'm told I cannot get into. But there are qualities to this [inspections] program that would not be unlike causing athletes to just mail in their own urine specimens in the mail and us believing that's where it -- that it came from them.

So look, I've got some questions. I want to talk a little bit about who we're dealing with here.

Most of us have been to Iraq many times, and I’ll never forget visiting General Odierno in Baghdad. And every time we visited General Odierno in Baghdad he’d have on his coffee table the IEDs that were used to maim and kill Americans. They were lying on the coffee table—every single one of them was made by Iran.

Once we developed the technology, by the way, to counter that, what they [Iran] did next was develop an explosively formed penetrator (EFP). What they do is, they have an explosion that heats up copper to go through a piece of machinery to maim and dismember Americans. This was all Iran. Every single bit of it.

We’ve all been out to Walter Reed and we’ve visited these incredible heroes that have lost in some cases two arms and a leg or in some cases two legs and two arms. We see them all over the country. They’re living with this today. This is the country we’re dealing with; the country that created some of the most disturbing types of methods to maim Americans that have ever been seen. They tried to kill an ambassador here in Washington, D.C. not long ago. I mean, we know that. 

Ben [Senator Cardin] and I went over with others to the see something that the Holocaust Museum had put together. A young man named Caesar had taken photographs of the Syrian prisons, Syrian prisons which, by the way, Iran supports. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad would not even be in office today if it weren’t for Iran. We went over [and saw these photographs and you can] envision the torture that’s happening.  It’s been photographed and chronicled. Many of you have seen it on the internet. It’s an amazing thing. It’s happening right now, by the way, as we sit here. Some people might say, “Well, that was Iraq, and I don’t know. Should we have been there?” This is happening this very second [in Syria] with the support of Iran. Do you understand that? People’s genitals right now – maimed, amputated. People are being electrocuted. This is happening this very second in a prison in Syria that Iran is supporting. Some would say we haven’t done as much as we could to stop it because of these negotiations.

When I was in college, I wasn’t a particularly good student. First part, I was interested in sports, latter part, I was interested in working. I learned one thing – I learned about the critical path method, and I ended up building buildings all over our country. And I learned that you start with something like this and you lay out a vision and you build it out. You begin with the end in mind and you put first things first. That’s sort of the crucial path. So, what I’ve seen, our secretary—I know he’s developed tremendous warmth with Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif and he talks about it often—but what I think you’ve actually done in these negotiations is codify a perfectly aligned pathway for Iran to get a nuclear weapon just by abiding by this agreement. I look at the things that they [Iran] need to do—the way it’s laid out and I don’t think you could more perfectly lay it out [for Iran].

From my perspective, Mr. Secretary, I’m sorry, but it’s not unlike a hotel guest who leaves only with a hotel bathrobe on his back. I believe you’ve been fleeced. In the process of being fleeced, what you’ve really done here is you have turned Iran from being a pariah to now Congress being a pariah. A few weeks ago you were saying that no deal is better than a bad deal. And I know that there’s no way you could have possibly been thinking about war a few weeks ago. No way.

And yet what you say to us now, and you said it over and over yesterday, and I’ve seen you say it over and over on television, you say if Congress were to turn this down, the only option is war. Whereas, [if that were the case, then] a few weeks ago for you to turn it down, the only option is war. I don’t think you can have it both ways.

Let me just say this: if Congress were to say these sanctions cannot be lifted it wouldn’t be any different from the snapback that we now have where, in essence, the United States on its own can implement snapback. But my guess is the other countries, as you’ve stated before, wouldn’t come along. So, we’ve got to decide which way it is. I know you speak with a degree of disdain about our regional partners when you describe their reaction to this deal. Well, one of the things that we have to remember is if we actually dealt with dismantling [Iran’s] nuclear program, they [our regional partners] wouldn’t be responding in the way that they have. Not only has this not occurred, but in addition, we are lifting the ballistic missile embargo in eight years. I have no idea how that even entered into the equation at the end, but it did. We are lifting the conventional weapons embargo in five years and in a very cute way with hortatory language in the agreement, unbelievably, we are immediately lifting the ballistic missile testing ban.

So, I’d have to say that, based on my reading, I believe that you have crossed a new threshold in U.S. foreign policy where now it is the policy of the United States to enable a state sponsor of terror to obtain an industrialized nuclear development program that has, as we know, only one real need.

That is what you’re here today to ask us to support.

I look forward to your testimony and the appropriate questions afterwards.