WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, on Tuesday took to the U.S. Senate floor to make the case for why the Biden administration needs to get back into a nuclear agreement with Iran. Murphy laid out the consequences of President Trump’s failed Iran policy after pulling out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and he argued returning to the deal would make the world safer but time is of the essence.
Murphy stated: “Mr. President, the world was safer when the JCPOA… was in place. The world became a much less safe place when President Trump tore up that agreement against the advice of his Secretary of State, his Secretary of Defense.”
“We have an opportunity right now to reconstruct that agreement or the most important elements of it, so that Iran once again is as far as possible from being able to obtain a nuclear weapon. That would make the region safer, that would make the United States safer, but time is of the essence,” Murphy continued.
Calling on the Biden administration to make tough, but smart concessions in order to get back into a nuclear agreement, Murphy said: “Now, it's not going to be easy because there are elements of Iran’s progress in nuclear research that are difficult, if not impossible, to undo, given how much new research, how many advanced centrifuges they have built since President Trump left the agreement…But it is important for the Biden administration to see that many of the sanctions that Trump put in place during that period of time, may have sounded good, but had no impact on Iranian behavior. I would put on that list the sanctioning of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the sanctioning of the Supreme Leader. These aren't good people, but those sanctions didn't change Iran's behavior for the better. In fact, during that period of time, their behavior got worse. Their nuclear research program became more advanced, and so if releasing those designations or sanctions are required in order to make the world safer, and get Iran back into the nuclear box, then I hope the administration will give serious consideration.”
Murphy concluded: “Time is of the essence. President Biden promised to restart diplomacy with Iran to make the world a safer place by getting back into a nuclear agreement. This is the moment to do it. And I would urge the administration to take all of the smart steps necessary in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon making the region and the world a safer place.”
A full transcript of his remarks can be found below:
MURPHY: “Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, the world was safer when the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], the Iran nuclear agreement negotiated by President Obama, was in place. The world became a much less safe place when President Trump tore up that agreement against the advice of his Secretary of State, his Secretary of Defense.
“We have an opportunity right now to reconstruct that agreement or the most important elements of it, so that Iran once again is as far as possible from being able to obtain a nuclear weapon. That would make the region safer, that would make the United States safer, but time is of the essence. U.S. negotiators, European negotiators, the Russians, the Chinese and the Iranians are right now entering what could be the last round of discussions, and it is absolutely imperative that the United States Senate provide this administration with the support it needs to effectuate an agreement.
“I want to talk to my colleagues for a few minutes this [evening] about how important it is for the United States and our European allies, for the world indeed, to reconstruct a diplomatic agreement with Iran. And I want to also talk for a moment about how disastrous the last five years have been—a period of time during which the United States has largely been out of compliance with that agreement.
“The JCPOA was signed by the United States, European allies entered into on behalf of a coalition that included Russia and China, with the Iranian government. It was signed in July of 2015, and within about six months, the [International Atomic Energy Agency] was able to verify that Iran had completed its obligations under the nuclear agreement.
“This included commitments that would increase the amount of time that Iran needed to acquire enough material for a nuclear weapon from two to three months, that was the amount of time that would have taken them prior to the nuclear agreement, to at least a year or more. The agreement reduced Iran stockpiles of enriched uranium by requiring it to ship 25,000 pounds of it out of the country. Iran committed to dismantling and removing two thirds of its centrifuges. It modified its heavy water reactor at Arak and filled it with concrete so that it could never be used again, preventing Iran from producing weapons grade plutonium.
“And finally, Iran agreed to provide unprecedented access to its nuclear facilities and to its nuclear supply chain. Not only the sites that we knew about, but it also agreed to adopt what are called the additional protocols, which allow the IAEA to be able to request and get access to sites in which they might have some suspicion that there was new prohibited nuclear research activity happening.
“Under this deal, Iran reduced its stockpile of uranium by 98%. It kept its level of uranium enrichment at 3.67%, significantly below the levels that you would need to make a bomb. The JCPOA as I said, got the Iranians to reduce their number of centrifuges from 20,000 to 6,000.
“And so this was the world that President Trump inherited. The United States, Europe, Russia and China united on Iran policy. Iran, shutting down major elements of their nuclear research program such that they were now more than a year out from getting a nuclear weapon if they made the decision to achieve a nuclear weapon. That's called the breakout time. The time from which a country decides it wants a nuclear weapon to the point in which it has [enough fuel for] a nuclear weapon. From Iran that went from two to three months prior to the agreement to over a year after the agreement.
“But it also lined up the United States, Europe, China and Russia, this unlikely alliance of traditional adversaries, at least with respect to Russia and China, so that we can then move on to Iran's other malevolent behaviors. Critics of the deal said, ‘Hey, it only pertains to the nuclear program, but that's not the only bad behavior that Iran is engaged in.’
“Well, President Trump inherited a united front of unlikely allies that then could be utilized to pressure Iran to make changes to its ballistic missile program, to reduce its support for terrorist organizations and proxy armies around the region. That's why Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis and many other Trump advisors encouraged him to stay in the deal.
“But he didn’t. President Trump tore up the deal and announced to the country and the world that he was going to pursue a different strategy.
“Critics of the JCPOA said the President Obama shouldn't have entered into an agreement. Critics said that he should have held out and kept applying more and more sanctions even if the Europeans walked away as a means of getting Iran to come to the table on a broader agreement that would include its ballistic missile program, its support for terrorists. President Obama believed it was important to get the nuclear question off the table.
“But to the extent there was any silver lining of President Trump's decision, it's that it allowed us for four years to test the theory of the opponents, the theory of the critics, because President Trump implemented the strategy that the critics of the JCPOA wanted President Obama to employ. Donald Trump imposed greater sanctions. He did it without the Europeans, and he demanded that he would only talk to the Iranians if they came to the table on everything. In fact, he set it down on a piece of paper. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave Iran a list of 12 demands and said that we will come to the table and talk to you, we will consider releasing these sanctions if you talk to us about all of your dangerous behaviors in the region: your nuclear program, your ballistic missile program, your support for terrorists.
“So President Trump gave us the gift of testing the theory of the opponents. You know how the story goes. It was a spectacular failure. It was a spectacular failure in multiple respects.
“First, let's just talk about what happened to Iran's nuclear program. In May 2019, Iran announces that it will no longer observe the JCPOA stockpile limit. And as of November of last year, the stockpile of enriched uranium, enriched uranium gas, was roughly 11 times what it was during the agreement. In July 2019, Iran began enriching uranium up to 4.5%, above 3.6% as specified in the agreement. In January 2021, it began enriching uranium to 20%. In April of ‘21, up to 60%.
“In September 2019, Iran announced it would no longer be bound by any research and development limitations on advanced centrifuges. They started that research again. In November 2019, Iran announced that it would start enriching uranium at Fordow up to 4.5%. Under the JCPOA, enrichment at Fordow was prohibited for 15 years.
“By January of last year, Iran was enriching uranium to 20% at Fordow. And in November of 2020, Iran's parliament passed a bill requiring the country to build that new heavy water reactor in Arak that allows them a path to plutonium. Once built, that would be enough plutonium annually for two nuclear weapons.
“And since February of this year, Iran has been restricting that [IAEA] access to its facilities. It no longer complies with additional protocols, so if you ask for access to a site in which you think that there is new nuclear research activity being undertaken, Iran no longer feels obligated to grant that access.
“Iran went from a breakout time of 2-3 months to a breakout time under the agreement of more than a year to today a breakout time of two months, arguably less than the breakout time prior to the deal. But important to also note that during these last four years, none of Iran’s other malevolent activities in the region have abated. In fact, arguably they've gotten worse. Iran continues to support proxy armies in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon. In fact, their connection with Hezbollah in Lebanon and with the Houthis in Yemen is probably stronger today than it was during the JCPOA.
“After President Trump backed out of the JCPOA, Iran restarted attacks on U.S. troops. Now, Iran has been engaged in permanent destabilizing activities in Iraq since the outset of that war, but during the period of time that we were in the JCPOA they were not shooting directly at U.S. troops. Their proxy armies had stood down. Once we were outside of the JCPOA, those attacks started again. And in fact, one rocket that was sent by a proxy army at a U.S.-staffed base in Iraq could have killed 100 U.S. troop members. It just narrowly missed.
“The Iranians have undertaken attacks against the Saudis that they never would have contemplated while the JCPOA was in effect. Taking action against Saudi oil facilities, including a high profile attack against Saudi Aramco. And their proxy army, similarly, are firing at our friends in the Gulf. Just in the last few months, we've seen an increased level of drone attacks and missile attacks against Saudi Arabia and UAE from inside Yemen.
“One of my Republican colleagues here in this body claimed that Trump's Iran policy had restored deterrence. That's a laughable proposition because it did exactly the opposite. Once we got out of that agreement, Iran started their nuclear research programs to the point that it is stronger than it was prior to the JCPOA in some ways. They didn't stop any of their other destabilizing activity. It got worse. And they didn't come back to the table.
“The whole point of the critics of the Obama policy was that if we just kept on applying sanctions, Iran would come to the table on everything. Trump tried it. It didn't work. Iran didn't come to the table on anything. Their actions in the region, their actions against the United States, their nuclear research program just got more serious and worse.
“Listen, diplomacy is not weakness. Newsflash: occasionally there are diplomatic agreements that are in the best interests of the United States and the JCPOA was inarguably one of them. The data tells a clear story. Iran wasn't a good actor during the JCPOA. They were still engaged in all sorts of deleterious activity. But Donald Trump inherited the ability to use that coalition that was built, to build the JCPOA, to take on that other activity. He inherited a nuclear research program which was controlled, and he threw it all away.
“What's interesting is that many of our allies who were very skeptical of the JCPOA when it was signed, are now very supportive of the United States re-entering it. It tells you that they see the same story that I'm telling you. Our Gulf allies who were amongst the most vocal opponents of the JCPOA of 2014 and 2015 sent out a joint statement, urging ‘a mutual return to full compliance with the JCPOA.’ This is a deal that the Gulf nations opposed and they now support the United States entering back into it.
“And a cavalcade of Israeli officials, former intelligence officials and defense officials who can now feel freer to speak about their personal views, have been equally clear about the need to get back in to this agreement.
“Tamir Pardo, who's the former director of Mossad, five years he directed Mossad. He said, ‘What happened in 2018 was a tragedy. It was an unforgivable strategy. A fact that Israel pushed the United States to withdraw from the agreement 10 years early. It was a strategic mistake.’
“Amos Yadlin, who’s the former chief of the IDF military intelligence unit, a job he held for four years. He said, ‘If we want to be honest, what postponed Iranian progress towards achieving nuclear weapons was the nuclear agreement, not military action. Iran’s closer now than they've ever been before. And that's because of the very wrong policy of withdrawing from the agreement.’
“Gadi Eisenkot, former IDF Chief of Staff, says ‘The fact that the US withdrew in 2018 from the deal, released Iran from all restrictions and inspections in the deal. Even if there were holes in the agreement, it brought Iran to the most advanced position today with regard to its nuclear program.’
“And so, so many of our friends in the region see the need to get back into this agreement. The status quo is not acceptable.
“Now, it's not going to be easy because there are elements of Iran’s progress in nuclear research that are difficult, if not impossible, to undo, given how much new research, how many advanced centrifuges they have built since President Trump left the agreement. And quite frankly, there are some sanctions that we have applied to Iran since the nuclear agreement that we aren't going to release because we told the Iranians and the world that we were going to apply sanctions to Iran relevant to their ballistic missile program or their support for terrorist organizations. And we did that, some of them under President Trump, those aren't going to go away.
“But it is important for the Biden administration to see that many of the sanctions that Trump put in place during that period of time, may have sounded good, but had no impact on Iranian behavior. I would put on that list the sanctioning of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the sanctioning of the Supreme Leader. These aren't good people, but those sanctions didn't change Iran's behavior for the better. In fact, during that period of time, their behavior got worse. Their nuclear research program became more advanced, and so if releasing those designations or sanctions are required in order to make the world safer, and get Iran back into the nuclear box, then I hope the administration will give serious consideration.
“I hope the administration understands the vital importance of getting back into this agreement and being willing to do the tough things in order to achieve a new nuclear agreement with the Iranians. And the Iranians are going to have to make concessions as well. Iranians are going to have to make some serious changes to their current scope of nuclear research, but it's the only way to unlock sanctions relief for a country that badly needs it.
“There is no way for the current president of Iran to make good on all the promises he made without the sanctions relief. But time is of the essence. Time is of the essence. President Biden promised to restart diplomacy with Iran to make the world a safer place by getting back into a nuclear agreement. This is the moment to do it. And I would urge the administration to take all of the smart steps necessary in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, making the region and the world a safer place. I yield the floor.”