WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez delivered the following remarks on the Senate Floor on the Corker-Menendez Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act just prior to Senate passage of the bill with a 98-1 bipartisan vote.
“Madam President, I rise to speak on the Iran Nuclear Review Act. As I have said from the start, bipartisanship on this legislation has always been the key to making sure that Congress has the ability to review any agreement with Iran, a nation that we cannot trust. It is critically important that that bipartisanship is preserved.
“As we head to a 2 o’clock vote on cloture to move forward on this bill, let me just say I want to thank Chairman Corker for his leadership. I want to thank Ranking Member Cardin for taking up the cause and for helping to bring this legislation to this point, starting with a unanimous vote out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“At the end of the day we can pass a bipartisan bill, as Senator Corker and I first envisioned it. Now it's been a long and difficult process. There has been debate, disagreement to some amendments, but we have almost reached the finish line.
“And despite the good intentions – and I will say the good intentions of many of the amendments, some which I agree with – we cannot risk a presidential veto and we cannot at the end of the day risk giving up Congressional review and judgment. That is the critical core issue before the Senate so we will have congressional review and judgment on probably the most significant nuclear nonproliferation national security, global security question, I think, of our time.
“We cannot risk having no oversight role. And without the passage of this legislation, we will have missed an opportunity to send a clear message to Tehran. So as we near the finish line and hopefully agree to govern as we should, I believe we will ultimately pass legislation without destroying what Senator Corker and I carefully crafted and was passed unanimously out of the Committee.
“From the beginning we fashioned language to ensure that congress plays a critical role in judging any final agreement. And I want to also recognize Senator Kaine who had significant input as we were devising the bill, and for his support. The bill we crafted was intended to ensure that if the P-5 plus 1 and Iran ultimately achieve a comprehensive agreement by the June deadline, Congress would have a say in judging that agreement.
“Now, a core element of the framework agreement that is, I guess the foundation of the negotiations leading into June is about sanctions relief as a core part of it, at least from the Iranian perspective. And the sanctions relief the administration is proposing that is at the heart of these negotiations from their perspective for us, it's about their nuclear infrastructure and their drive for nuclear weapons.
“But for them, why are they here seated in negotiations in the first place? As the Administration themselves has recognized, it is because of the sanctions. Well, that was crafted by Congress and it was enacted by Congress. And we should be the ones to make a determination of whether or not it is appropriate to relieve those sanctions.
“Now I have to say as one of the authors of those sanctions, I never envisioned a wholesale waiver of sanctions against Iran without Congressional input and without Congressional action.
“So the message I believe that we can send – and I hope we will do it powerfully – to Iran is that sanctions relief is not a given and it is not a prize for signing on the dotted line. Make no mistake, having said that, I hope we can have a strong bipartisan vote on this bill. I have serious questions about the framework agreement as it stands today from the different understandings that both sides have of the agreement which is, I guess, part of the challenge of not committing it to writing, one document in writing, about the pace of sanctions relief.
“I increasingly get alarmed that there is a suggestion that there will be greater upfront sanctions relief. I don't believe that Iran should get a signing bonus. I'm concerned about the recent statement by the President that he could envision greater sanctions relief coming upfront for Iran.
“I have real questions about where on the spectrum is Iran’s research and development authorities as we move forward and how far they can advance their research and development as it relates to nuclear power. Greater research and development means, among other things, more sophisticated centrifuges that can spin faster and dramatically reduce breakout time towards a nuclear bomb.
“I'm concerned about the ability to snap back sanctions if there are violations of any agreement. And certainly what I’ve seen in the first instance that is ultimately not on our side. I'm concerned about the international atomic energy administration's ability to obtain anytime, anyplace snap inspections.
“I already heard the Iranians say they're balking about that and also balking about the possibility that the IAEA believes that such a location might be a military installation and have said they are not going to allow any military installations to be inspected. That is a sure-fire way to guarantee that if you want to ultimately violate the deal, do it at a military site where you're not allowing inspection to take place.
“I'm concerned about what I hear, that the administration is trying to differentiate between the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Quds force to provide greater sanctions relief, both as far as I’m concerned are terrorist groups. And as far as I’m concerned, are clearly covered by U.S. law. So trying to get the treasury department to differentiate is really problematic and concerning.
“I'm deeply disturbed that the agreement does not speak to the long-established condition that Iran must come completely clean on the question of their possible weaponization of their nuclear program. We need to know how far along Iran progressed in their weaponization so that we can understand those consequences as it relates to other breakout time issues.
“And above all, I’m concerned that when you read the framework agreement, while it does talk about some things in longer time frames, the core question as to when Iran could advance its nuclear program in a way that they want to and that I think is problematic is at the expiration of ten years. Does that mean we are ultimately destined to have Iran as a nuclear weapons state after that period of time? That cannot be and should not be the ultimate result.
“So I say all of those concerns to say to my colleagues even though I passionately believe that this legislation is critical for us, it is not that I don't have concerns, but this legislation is the vehicle by which we can judge. Now maybe these issues will be resolved in a negotiation. I don't know. But ultimately, without this vehicle, we have no final say on an agreement, and we have no oversight role established for compliance.
“I'm concerned that the sanctions relief can come without what appears to be a broader Iran policy in terms of how do we contain its acts of terrorism. It clearly is the largest state-sponsored terrorism. We see its hegemonic influence, as a major place of what is Assad and Syria, what is happening in Yemen, what is happening in different parts of the region. I'm concerned about its missile technology.
“There are a lot of elements here of concern at the end of the day. And I would say to my colleagues who feel passionately about some of these amendments that they have offered, this isn't the only bill on which we can consider those things. I stand ready to work with colleagues immediately on pursuing other concerns such as missile technology, such as terrorism, such as their human rights violations, such as their anti-Semitism, such as the Americans who are being held hostage. And to look at either sanctions or enhanced sanctions if they already exist on some of these elements that we should be considering. That is separate and apart from a nuclear program.
“So I’d be more than willing to work with my colleagues to deal with all of those issues. And I will say that even as we have worked to give the Administration the space to negotiate and believe very passionately in this legislation, it bothers me enormously that just last week Reuters reported that Great Britain informed the United Nations sanctions panel on April 20 of an active Iranian nuclear procurement network apparently linked to two blacklisted firms – Iran's centrifuge technology company called TESA and Kalay Company, KEC. If what Great Britain brought before the sanctions panel is true, how can we trust Iran to end its nuclear weapons ambitions and not be a threat to its neighbors when even as we are negotiating with them, they are trying to illicitly acquire materials for their nuclear weapons program in the midst of the negotiations?
“Forgetting about everything they are doing in Yemen and Syria, forgetting about their hostility to ships in the strait and actions of terrorism, this is square-on trying to ultimately use front companies to get materials for your nuclear program. So we can't build this on trust alone and I know the administration says we're not going to trust them, we're going to verify. But it goes beyond that.
“It can't be a fleeting hope that Iran will comply with the provisions and change their stripes. I believe they won't. It can't be built on the aspirations or good intentions like the North Korea deal, not when Iran continues to sponsor terrorism, not while it asserts its interests from Iraq to Bahrain and Lebanon. Not as events continue to worsen. I just had the UN relief coordinator in on Syria. This is a human tragedy of unimaginable proportions. We have become almost desensitized. You don't hear about it on the Senate Floor anymore. It's all supported and encouraged and financed by Tehran.
“And not while Iran’s fingerprints remain in the dust of the Jewish community center in Argentina, even as it seeks to bargain with our country's leader for absolution. That is the Iran we are dealing with. That is the state we are being asked to hope will change.
“Hope is not a national security solution when it comes to dealing with Iran.
“Congress having a say on any final agreement is critical to how we deal with Iran and so I urge my colleagues to have a strong vote on cloture. And I hope after that, a unanimous vote on passage.
“And with that, Madam President, I yield the Floor.”