Sen. Robert Menendez (D – N.J.), a top Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced his opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran today, saying the agreement “failed to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state at a time of its choosing, ” The Washington Post reports.
Menendez is the second senior Democratic Senator to oppose the deal, with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D – N.Y.) coming out against the nuclear agreement earlier this month.
In prepared remarks detailing his decision to vote against the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the agreement signed by Iran and the P5+1 powers is known, Menendez said:
We know that despite the fact that Iran claims their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, they have violated the international will, as expressed by various U.N. Security Council Resolutions, and by deceit, deception and delay advanced their program to the point of being a threshold nuclear state. It is because of these facts, and the fact that the world believes that Iran was weaponizing its nuclear program at the Parchin Military Base — as well as developing a covert uranium enrichment facility in Fordow, built deep inside of a mountain, raising serious doubts about the peaceful nature of their civilian program, and their sponsorship of state terrorism — that the world united against Iran’s nuclear program.
In that context, let’s remind ourselves of the stated purpose of our negotiations with Iran: Simply put, it was to dismantle all — or significant parts — of Iran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure to ensure that it would not have nuclear weapons capability at any time. Not shrink its infrastructure. Not limit it. But fully dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons capability. […]
At the end of the day, what we appear to have is a roll-back of sanctions and Iran only limiting its capability, but not dismantling it or rolling it back. What do we get? We get an alarm bell should they decide to violate their commitments, and a system for inspections to verify their compliance. That, in my view, is a far cry from ‘dismantling.’
Citing specific shortcomings of the JCPOA, particularly “that it requires no dismantling of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and only mothballs that infrastructure for 10 years, ” Menendez presented his concerns alongside those of various experts, building a thorough case against an agreement he says will give Iran “permanent relief in exchange for short-term promises.”
Menendez further emphasized that “Congress has rejected outright or demanded changes to more than 200 treaties and international agreements, including 80 that were multilateral, ” and argued that legislators can also help secure a better deal with Iran. The senator outlined a series of amendments that may improve the existing deal, which include requiring Iran to ratify the Additional Protocol, a safeguard agreement that provides the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) greater access to nuclear facilities, as well as: banning development of advanced centrifuges; extending the duration of the deal’s restriction to “at least 20 years”; closing the Fordow nuclear facility; forcing Iran to come clean about the “possible military dimensions” of its program; and detailing the consequences of “small and midsized” Iranian violations of the agreement.
A full recording of Menendez’s speech is embedded below.
The senator has already sustained some personal attacks over his announcement, with Ilya Sheyman, head of the pro-deal advocacy group MoveOn, calling him “a sorry excuse for a Democratic Senator” with a “pro-war position, ” and John Hudson, in a blog postpublished on Foreign Policy, framing Menendez’s decision in the context of donations the senator allegedly received from “pro-Israel donors.”
Yesterday, Sen. Bob Corker (R – Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also announced that he will vote against the JCPOA, writing in an op-ed published in The Washington Post:
[I]t is Congress’s responsibility to determine whether this agreement will be in our national interest, will make the United States safer and will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons program. I do not believe that it will.
Rather than end Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, over time this deal industrializes the program of the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R – Ariz.), another member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said this Saturday that he will vote to reject the deal, citing its failure to secure Congress’ ability to impose future sanctions on Iran.
According to a whip count in The Washington Post, 57 senators are currently against or leaning to oppose the JCPOA, with a total of 67 needed to reject the agreement and override a presidential veto.