Joining fellow Democratic Senator Schumer, NJ lawmaker rebuffs Obama’s claims, warns deal guts ability to snap back sanctions

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, listens to a question while speaking in Garwood, New Jersey, March 23, 2015. (AP/Mel Evans, File)
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, listens to a question while speaking in Garwood, New Jersey, March 23, 2015. (AP/Mel Evans, File)


WASHINGTON — Senator Robert Menendez on Tuesday became the second Senate Democrat to announce his intention to vote against the Iran deal in the Congressional vote to be held in September.

The senator emphasized during his announcement that he will both vote disapproval of the deal, and will vote in order to defeat a likely presidential veto. In a lengthy speech at New Jersey’s Seton Hall University defending his stance, Menendez deflected administration criticism while presenting his plan for how to renegotiate the agreement.

“I will vote to disapprove the agreement and, if called upon, would vote to override a veto,” he announced. Menendez, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been the most prominent Democratic skeptic over the nuclear talks with Iran and follows fellow Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer in declaring his intention to oppose the deal in Congress.

Of the 46 members of the Democratic caucus, 21 have announced that they will support the deal, although a number have expressed reservations regarding aspects of the agreement. The deal’s opponents – including the entire Republican caucus in the Senate – must enlist around a dozen more Democrats to oppose the deal in order to override an anticipated presidential veto.

In his speech, Menendez defended himself against the White House’s characterization of the deal’s critics, by noting that he was not motivated by animus for the president or his policies.

The senator highlighted his almost complete record of voting with the administration. “I have supported President Obama 98 percent of the time in 2013 and 2014 and my dear late mother would have loved for me to listen to her 98 percent of the time,” he quipped.

The US, he said, should also provide Israel “with the means necessary to counter the Iranian nuclear threat on its own” – providing additional deterrence in the face of what Iran views as a weak threat of military action by the US itself.

Menendez also rejected the president’s insinuations that those who oppose the deal are the same voices who urged the US to launch the now-unpopular 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“Unlike President Obama’s characterization of those who have raised serious questions about the agreement, or who have opposed it, I did not vote for the war in Iraq, I opposed it, unlike the vice president and the secretary of state, who both supported it,” Menendez protested. “My vote against the Iraq war was unpopular at the time, but it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

“I decide whether to support or oppose an issue whether it is in the national interest of our country to do so,” he continued, adding that Israel’s safety and well-being was a second consideration.

Menendez complained that the deal diverged significantly from the original “stated purpose of the negotiations with Iran. “It was to dismantle all or significant parts of Iran’s illicit infrastructure to ensure that it would not have nuclear weapons capability for all time,” he reminded audience members. “We thought the agreement would be rollback for rollback. You roll back your infrastructure and we roll back our sanctions.”

The current provisions, he said, were a “far cry” from the original intent – offering the US “an alarm bell should they decide to violate their commitments and a system to inspect and verify their compliance.” Menendez went on to list past US demands, including the dismantlement of the Arak heavy water facility and the closure of the underground facility at Fordo.

“What we cannot dismiss is that we have abandoned our long held policy of preventing nuclear proliferation,” Menendez asserted, arguing that the new policy, of containment, “leaves us with a less secure and less certain world order.”

Countering the administration’s claims that opponents of the deal had not offered any viable alternative to ratifying the current agreement, Menendez suggested that Congress disapprove of the final version of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) “without rejecting the entire agreement.”

Instead, he said, Congress should authorize the continuing of negotiations under the more limited framework of the interim agreement. He promised that he would move to authorize a sweetener to induce Iran to continue talks – a one time release of funds as a show of support for continued negotiations.

He listed a set of issues on which the US should seek renegotiation, including: the immediate Iranian ratification of the more stringent additional protocol; a ban on centrifuge research and development for the duration of the agreement; the closure of the Fordo enrichment facility; the full disclosure of previous military dimensions of the nuclear program in advance of comprehensive sanctions relief; a clear delineation of which penalties will be imposed by P5+1 member states for light and moderate violations of the agreement; and an extension of the duration of the agreement for 20 rather than 10 years.

He rejected claims that if Congress fails to endorse the agreement and reimposes sanctions, its alliance with the other P5+1 member states will crumble and the dollar itself could collapse due to a loss of credibility.

Other nations, Menendez suggested, “will care more about their ability to do business in a US economy of $17 trillion rather than an Iranian economy of $415 billion.”

According to Menendez, congressional review of treaties in the past has not damaged American credibility. He noted that in its history, Congress has rejected outright or demanded changes to more than 200 treaties and international agreements, including over 80 multilateral ones.

The senator also complained that no administration official had offered him an answer as to whether the terms of the current agreement allowed Congress to re-authorize the Iran Sanctions Act. This legislation, which Menendez said provides the mechanism for snap back sanctions, is set to expire in 2016.

He told his audience that he corresponded with the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, who informed him that Iran sees the re-authorization of that act as a clear violation of the terms of the JCPOA – leaving the question open as to how the United States could “snap back” sanctions for any Iranian violations post-2016.

As reported by The Times of Israel