Floor Speech on Iran by Senator Robert Menendez

February 6, 2014

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Missile

Mentioned Suspect Entities & Suppliers: 

I come to the floor to speak about one of our greatest national security challenges, which is a nuclear-armed Iran. I have long thought of this as a bipartisan national security issue, not a partisan political issue.

At the end of the day, it is a national security issue that we must approach in a spirit of bipartisanship and unity, which has been the spirit in which we have worked together on this matter.

And I hope that we will not find ourselves in a  partisan process trying to force a vote on this national security matter before its appropriate time.

Let me say at the outset, I support the Administration’s diplomatic efforts. I have always supported a two-track policy of diplomacy and sanctions.

At the same time, I am convinced that we should only relieve pressure on Iran in exchange for verifiable concessions that will dismantle Iran’s nuclear program. Our success should be measured in years, not months.

And that it be done in such a way that alarm bells will sound – from Vienna to Washington – should Iran restart its program anytime in the next 20 to 30 years. I’m here to unequivocally state my intention – as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee – to make absolutely certain that any deal that we may reach with Iran is verifiable, effective, and prevents them from ever developing even one nuclear weapon.

Let’s remember that – while we in the Senate are not at the negotiating table – we have a tremendous stake in the outcome and an obligation, as a separate co-equal branch of government representing the American people, to provide oversight and an expression of what we expect as to what the end result should be.

But, it’s the Administration that is at the negotiating table with the Iranians – not us; and it’s the Administration that’s ultimately responsible for negotiating a deal to conclusively end Iran’s illicit nuclear program and it’s the Administration that will have to come back to Congress and tell us whether Iran will continue to be a nuclear threshold state.

My sincere desire is for the Administration to succeed. No one has worked harder for a peaceful outcome or to get Iran to comply with sanctions than I have.

But, based on the parameters described in the Joint Plan of Action and Iranian comments in the days that have followed I am very concerned.  This is not a nothing-ventured, nothing-gained enterprise.

We have placed our incredibly effective international sanctions regime on the line without clearly defining the parameters of what we expect in a final agreement.  

As Ali Akbar Salehi, who is the head of Iran's nuclear agency said last month on Iranian state television about the agreement: "The iceberg of sanctions is melting while our centrifuges are also still working. This is our greatest achievement."

Well, Mr. President, that’s my greatest fear. Any final deal must require Iran to dismantle large portions of its illicit nuclear program.

Any final deal must require Iran to halt its advanced centrifuge R&D activities, reduce the vast majority of its 20,000 centrifuges, close the Fordow facility, and stop the heavy-water reactor at Arak from ever possibly coming online.  And it should require Iran’s full-disclosure of its nuclear activities, including its weaponization activities.

For the good of the region and the world, Iran cannot remain a nuclear weapon threshold state – period.

A final agreement should move back the timeline for nuclear breakout capability to beyond a year and insist on a long-term, 20-year-plus monitoring and verification agreement.  That is the only way to force Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons aspirations. 

Anything else will leave Iran on the cusp of becoming a nuclear state while it rebuilds its economy and improves its ability to break-out at a future date.

David Albright – a respected former IAEA Inspector – has said that for Iran to move from an interim to a final agreement, it would have to close the Fordow facility and remove between 15,000 and 16,000 of its 20,000 centrifuges. And he had, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a long list of elements that he thinks are critical for a final agreement.

Even after such dramatic steps, we are looking at a break-out time of between 6 and 8 months, depending on whether Iran has access to uranium enriched to just 3.5 percent or access to 20 percent enriched uranium.

Dennis Ross, one of America’s pre-eminent diplomats and foreign policy analysts who as served under Democratic and Republican Presidents alike, has said Iran should retain no more than 10 percent of its centrifuges, which is in essence no more than 2,000.

These estimates are crucial because, at the end of the day, we – in this body – will have to decide whether this is enough to merit terminating sanctions.

Is a 6 month delay in Iran’s break-out ability enough, even when combined with a robust 20 years inspection and verification regime?

Understand that in allowing Iran to retain its enrichment capabilities, there will always be a risk of breakout.

It may be that is the only deal we can get. The real question is whether it is a good enough deal to merit terminating sanctions.

My concern is that the Joint Plan of Action does not speak to these recommended centrifuge limitations Dennis Ross or Dr. Albright suggest. In fact, Iran has already made its views about the limitations of the agreement quite clear.

What the Joint Plan of Action does concede is that Iran will not only retain its ability to enrich, but will be allowed a mutually-agreed-upon enrichment program.


With all of this in mind, I believe in the wisdom of the prospective sanctions I have proposed. I believe in the lessons of history that tell us Iran cannot be trusted to live up to its word without external pressure. I believe that an insurance policy that guards against Iranian obfuscation and deception is the best way forward.

I know there’s a difference of view. But I think the element that got Iran to the negotiating table is the element of peaceful diplomacy that can keep it there and can ultimately drive a successful negotiation.

My legislation – cosponsored by 59 Senators – would simply require that Iran act in good faith, adhere to the implementing agreement, not engage in new acts of terror against American citizens or U.S. property, and not conduct new ballistic missile tests with a range beyond 500 kilometers.

Mr. President, the legislation is not the problem. Congress is not the problem. Iran is the problem. We need to worry about Iran, then we need to worry about the Congress.


The question now is whether our goals align. Has the ideology of the Iranian regime altered so substantially in the last 6 months that they are ready to forswear a 20-year effort – 20-year effort – to develop nuclear weapons? Or are they, as the Supreme Leader has stated, seeking to beat us at the game of diplomacy – “to negotiate with the devil to eliminate its evil” – and retain their nuclear threshold and enriching abilities while degrading the sanctions regime?

And let’s not forget that it’s the Ayatollah – I know we are placing a lot of faith on President Rouhani and the Iranian Foreign Minister – but it’s the Ayatollah who holds the nuclear portfolio and his main goal is what? The preservation of the regime.

It is the Ayatollah who gave the green light to Rouhani to negotiate. Why? Because the sanctions were causing the Ayatollah to be concerned about regime change taking place within Iranian society due to the sanctions’ consequences on the Iranian economy. Now, interestingly enough, who benefits from the sanctions relief? The Ayatollah, in a Reuters story with the title: “Khamenei’s business empire gains from Iran sanctions relief.”

It goes on to talk about Khamenei controlling a massive business empire known as Setad that has invested in Iran’s petrochemical industries and which is now permitted to resume its exports.

In an interview with Reuters this week, a Treasury Department official stated that Iran would generate almost a billion dollars in revenue – a billion dollars in revenue – from petrochemical exports over the next 6 months. Who is the one with the great interest in the petrochemical sector? The Ayatollah, through his control of Setad.

I have worked on the Iranian nuclear issue for 20 years, starting when I was a member of the House pressing for sanctions to prevent Iran from building the Bushehr nuclear power plant and to halt IAEA support for their uranium mining and enrichment programs.

For a decade I was told that my concerns had no legitimate basis – that Iran would never be able to bring the Bushehr plant online, and that Iran’s activities were not the most major concern.

History has shown us that those assessments – about Iran’s abilities and intentions – were simply wrong.

The fact is, Iran’s nuclear aspirations did not materialize overnight.

Iran has been slowly, methodically working up to this moment for decades – and now, if its capability is mothballed rather than dismantled, they will remain at the cusp of becoming a declared nuclear state should they chose to start again because nothing will have changed if nothing is significantly dismantled.

Make no mistake – Iran views developing a nuclear capability as fundamental to its existence.

It sees the development of nuclear weapons as part of a regional hegemonic strategy to make Tehran the center of power throughout the region.

That is why our allies and partners in the region – not just the Israelis, but the Emiratis and the Saudis among others – are so skeptical and so concerned.

Quite simply, our allies and partners do not trust the Iranian leaders, nor do they believe that Iran has any intention of verifiably ending its nuclear weapons program.

So, while I welcome diplomatic efforts, and I share the hope that the Administration can achieve a final comprehensive agreement that eliminates this threat to global peace and security, I am deeply, deeply skeptical based on these 20 years of experience.


In my view, we should be negotiating from a position of strength.

Last Tuesday night, in the State of the Union, the President said: "If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today."

I agree, but I would point out to my colleagues that they did so from a position of strength. President Kennedy sent U.S. warships to face down the Soviets in Cuba, and Ronald Reagan dramatically built-up U.S. military might to such an extent that the Soviet Union couldn’t keep up the pace.

We need to negotiate with Iran from a position of strength. Yes, then we should have no fear about any such negotiations.

The concerns I have raised here are legitimate. They are not – as the President’s press secretary has said – “war-mongering.” This is not saber-rattling. It is not Congress wanting to “march to war,” as another White House spokeswoman said, but exactly the opposite.

I find it interesting as someone who was in a small minority in the House of Representatives voting against the war in Iraq when the overwhelming members of my colleagues and the many members of this body were voting for the war, to somehow be portrayed as a war-monger. To my mind it is the use of sanctions, which are a limited part of an arsenal of peaceful diplomacy tools, that can get you to successful negotiations.

At the end of the day, trying to keep the pressure on Iran to completely satisfy the U.N.’s – and the international community’s – demands for Iran to halt and reverse its illicit nuclear activities is the best way to avoid war in the first place - to avoid war in the first place.


I would urge everyone to look at the legislation I’ve drafted with my colleague from Illinois and members of both caucuses as a win for the Administration.

They’ve succeeded in convincing us - the administration has succeeded in convincing us - to provide a window of up to a year to negotiate. That’s not the way the legislation was intended.

But they convinced us that they needed an opportunity to negotiate and hence the legislation was worked in such a way to create that opportunity.


In my view, it’s time to put Iranian rhetoric to the test. If we are to take President Rouhani’s word when he said in Davos last week that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons – if that’s true, then the Iranian government should not have any problems with the obvious follow-up to that claim – starting with the verifiable dismantling of its illicit nuclear infrastructure. That is all the sanctions legislation does.


I think we need to be poised to ensure that we use the last element of peaceful diplomacy - which is to ensure that there are sanctions that create a consequence to the regime so that they can put in their equation that it is better to strike a deal and end their illicit nuclear program than it is to pursue a course that creates nuclear weapons.

If not, I fear if we continue down this path and sanctions erode and all we do is limit – and have safeguard notices – warning signs – we’ll get the warning signs but the sanctions will be gone and the only options left for a future American president will be: Do you accept a nuclear-armed Iran or do you have a military option?

Those are not desirable options. And it is our effort to avoid that being the ultimate question that is what is embodied in the sanctions legislation, and that we believe prospectively can increase the pressure on Iran to come to the peaceful conclusion so that that option of either accepting a nuclear-armed Iran or using the military option to prevent it from doing so is not the option for our country or for any future American president.