SENATORS HIT THE FLOOR WITH DEBATE ON IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

Photo: Dick Durbin Official Site

By Harry C. Blaney III

The Senate started September 9th in a late Wednesday afternoon debate on the Iran Nuclear Deal resolution rejecting the agreement.  It constituted a remarkable series of very serious Democratic arguments for this agreement, which in the history of Senate debates will likely go down as among the most important in foreign affairs and in quality, at least on the side of those who support the deal.

We have taken two of these speeches by Senator Dick Durbin and Senator Bernie Sanders, which were among the best and deeply in contrast to the respective lines by the  Republican hawks which followed line by line Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s direction towards an avoidable war. This done without adding any real factual or realistic arguments against the deal or showing a better path that will achieve, as the deal does, a verified halt to Iran’s nuclear weapons efforts. Least of all, they did not make any case that Israel would be better off with a likely war and upheaval in the Middle East if this deal was not approved and Iran had nuclear weapons in a few months time.

SPEECH TEXTS

By:  Sen. Bernie Sanders

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

I support the agreement that the United States negotiated with China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom and Iran. I believe this approach is the best way forward if we are to accomplish what we all want to accomplish—that is making certain that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon – an occurrence which would destabilize the region, lead to a nuclear arms race in the area, and would endanger the existence of Israel.

It is my firm belief that the test of a great nation, with the most powerful military on earth, is not how many wars we can engage in, but how we can use our strength and our capabilities to resolve international conflicts in a peaceful way.

Those who have spoken out against this agreement, including many in this chamber, and those who have made every effort to thwart the diplomatic process, are many of the same people who spoke out forcefully and irresponsibly about the need to go to war with Iraq – one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the modern history of our country.

Sadly, people like former vice president Dick Cheney and many of the other neo-cons who pushed us to war in Iraq were not only tragically wrong then, they are wrong now. Unfortunately, these individuals have learned nothing from the results of that disastrous policy and how it destabilized the entire region.

I fear that many of my Republican colleagues do not understand that war must be a last resort, not the first resort. It is easy to go to war, it not so easy to comprehend the unintended consequences of that war.

As the former Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I have talked to veterans from WWII to Iraq, and I have learned a little bit about what the cost of war entails. In Iraq and Afghanistan we have lost 6,700 brave men and women, and many others have come home without legs, without arms, without eyesight.

Let us not forget that 500,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan came back to their families with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. The suicide rate of young veterans is appallingly high. The divorce rate is appallingly high, and the impact on children is appallingly high. God knows how many families have been devastated by these wars.

And we should not forget the many hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women, and children who died in that war, and those whose lives who have been completely destabilized, including those who are fleeing their country today with only the clothes on their back as refugees. The cost of war is real.

Yes, the military option should always be on the table, but it should be the last option. We have got to do everything we can do to reach an agreement to ensure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon without having to go to war.

I believe we have an obligation to pursue diplomatic solutions before resorting to military engagement – especially after nearly fourteen years of ill-conceived and disastrous military engagements in the region.

The agreement calls for cutting off Iran’s pathways to the fissile materials needed for a nuclear weapon by reducing its stockpile of uranium by 98 percent, and restricting the level of enrichment of uranium to well below the level needed for weaponized uranium. The agreement requires Iran to decrease the number of installed centrifuges by two-thirds, dismantle the country’s heavy-water nuclear reactor so that it cannot produce any weapons-grade plutonium, and commit to rigorous monitoring, inspection, and verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Only after Iran has demonstrated to the international community its compliance with the tenets of the agreement – the U.S. and European Union will lift the sanctions that helped bring Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. The agreement also contains a mechanism for the “snap back” of those sanctions if Iran does not comply with its obligations.

Does the agreement achieve everything I would like? No, it does not. But to my mind, it is far better than the path we were on – with Iran developing nuclear weapons capability and the potential for military intervention by the U.S. and Israel growing greater by the day.

Let us not forget that if Iran does not live up to the agreement, sanctions may be reimposed. If Iran moves toward a nuclear weapon, all available options remain on the table. I think it is incumbent upon us, however, to give the negotiated agreement a chance to succeed, and it is for these reasons that I will support the agreement.

By Sen. Dick Durbin

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Mr. President, for many years the US and others in the global community have worried about a nuclear armed Iran – and for good reason. 

Our intelligence community assesses that, until as recently as 2003, Iran was working toward a nuclear bomb.

Such a weapon in the hands of the Iranian regime would be an unacceptable risk to the region, to Israel, and to the world. 

The reckless war in Iraq further empowered Iran.  The country’s hardliners moved forward at great speed building suspicious nuclear infrastructure.  These efforts produced large and unsettling quantities of highly enriched uranium that could have been used for a nuclear weapon.     

This is the mess President Obama inherited when he came to office.  Yet, he pledged that Iran would not obtain a nuclear bomb on his watch.

With the current deal negotiated between the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran, he has delivered on that promise—something no previous president has been able to do. 

He has negotiated a comprehensive deal in which Iran pledges to the world not to build a nuclear bomb and agrees to stringent inspections and terms to ensure that Iran keeps that pledge. 

And this historic agreement was accomplished without drawing the United States into another war in the Middle East. 

I understand that any deal with Iran is open to suspicion.  Iran has a long history of destabilizing actions and outrageously offensive statements. 

Yet, what also troubles me is that some in this chamber – 47 Senators from the other side of the aisle – chose to undermine this effort even before it was concluded.

You see back in March – while negotiations where still underway and Iran was in full compliance with an interim agreement – 47 Republican Senators took an unprecedented and deeply troubling step.

They wrote to Iran’s hardliners trying to undermine any possible deal.

That’s right, while the executive branch of our government carried out negotiations with some of our key Western allies to halt Iran’s nuclear program, members of this body wrote directly to our adversaries in Iran opposing our own government here at home.

Ponder that for a moment.

Can anyone here imagine if 47 Democrats had written to Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai saying don’t negotiate with then President Nixon – or to Soviet President Gorbachev saying don’t negotiate with President Reagan?

What if 47 Senate Democrats had written to Saddam Hussein before George W. Bush launched his ill-conceived war? 

The howls of protest would have been deafening.

Yet, that is exactly what happened here – something for which the Senate Historian’s office has reportedly found no precedent.

So it should be no surprise that many of these same voices also rushed forward to reject the final agreement immediately after it was announced.

None of these naysayers had time to actually read the agreement before they rejected it outright.   

Tragically, this apparent knee-jerk reaction to oppose anything by this administration has not only hurt efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program, but also tragically eroded this chamber’s historically bipartisan approach toward foreign policy. 

Mr. President, before the recess I came to the floor to announce my strong support for the nuclear agreement reached between key world powers and Iran. 

I noted that strong countries negotiate with their adversaries and have done so for generations, regardless of who was in the White House at the time.  And agreements reached from talking with our enemies have had tremendous benefits to our national security.

The deal with Iran is no different.

Since then, more than 35 of my Senate colleagues have expressed their support for this agreement.

They have pointed out the obvious.

First, this agreement places unprecedented restrictions and inspections on Iran, making it near impossible that Iran will be able to build a nuclear bomb without being caught.

Iran will not be able to cheat and get away with it.

Second, the agreement includes an Iranian commitment to the world’s powers that it will never build a nuclear bomb.  This means that if Iran cheats, action against Iran would likely have strong international support. 

And last, rejecting this agreement would leave the current international sanctions regime in tatters, eroding and falling apart over time. 

Even worse, Iran could walk away, leaving it unconstrained to build a nuclear weapon.  The region and our allies would then be at an even greater risk to a nuclear-armed Iran. 

Quite simply, rejecting this deal puts the US and the region at greater at risk. 

So much of the debate on this agreement is on issues peripheral to the primary goal – blocking Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon.  This agreement is the best option to do that.

And let me be clear, nothing in this agreement prevents the US or our allies from taking military action later if Iran cheats.  Nor does this agreement prevent the US from countering other Iranian actions in the region. 

And while Iran will likely continue to support terrorist groups, it will do so without the possibility of a nuclear umbrella.

It’s probably no surprise that many former Israeli security and intelligence officials see this agreement as in Israel’s interest.  It’s not because they trust Iran, it’s because this agreement blocks Iran’s pathway to a bomb. 

In fact, dozens of former senior Israeli security leaders have come out in support of the deal, including two former heads of Israeli Security Agency Shin Bet. 

Perhaps some of you saw the PBS Newshour interview last month with former head of the Mossad Efraim Halevy.  He said in support of the agreement,

I believe this agreement closes the roads and blocks the road to Iranian nuclear military capabilities for at least a decade.  And I believe that the arrangements that have been agreed between the parties are such that give us a credible answer to the Iranian military threat, at least for a decade, if not longer.  Up to a couple of years ago, the Iranians refused to discuss their nuclear programs on the basis of a negotiation, international negotiations. They said that this was their sovereign right to do whatever they wished.  They have caved in. They have entered into a detailed discussion of their capabilities. They have agreed to an agreement which lists their various facilities in Iran. They have agreed to knocking out the first and foremost important element in it, their location in Arak, which is a plutogenic-producing facility in potential.

   The core of this particular aspect is going to be destroyed.  And that means that there will be no capability of the Iranians to ultimately weaponize whatever they are doing for the purposes of attacking anybody around the world for the next decade. If only for that element alone, I would say this is an agreement worthwhile accepting.”

And when asked if he thought Iran would cheat, Halevy replied:

That is exactly the whole point of the agreement.  Whereas, when the United States negotiated with the Soviet Union, the code word which was used by President Reagan and Secretary Shultz was trust and verify, this time, it is mistrust and verify. There is going to be a verification system in place which is second to none and has no precedent.  And I believe that if the Iranians are going to try and cheat, there will be ways and means of finding this out. I think that the machinery which is going to be put in place, which, by the way, will be supported fully by the United States, without which this could not actually be implemented, will not be in place if the agreement is scuttled by Congress.”

And, of course, so many others outside of Congress from both sides of the aisle have come out in support of the deal, including former Senators Levin, Lugar, Nunn,Warner, Boren, Mitchell, and Kassenbaum.

Former National Security Advisor Scowcroft and former Secretaries of State Albright and Powell have expressed their views on the value of this deal.

And in recent weeks, more than 100 former US ambassadors…35 former generals and admirals…400 rabbis have written in support of the deal. 

Let me share a few key points from Senators Nunn and Lugar – two top nonproliferation experts and the former chairs of the Senate Committee on Armed Services and Senate Foreign Relations Committee respectively.  They note: 

At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear warheads aimed at American cities, and the Soviets were subject to numerous arms controls agreements. But progress was hard-fought and incremental at best. In an ideal world, the Soviet Union would have agreed to more severe constraints than those agreed by Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush, for example. It would have dismantled all of its nuclear weapons, stopped its human rights abuses and halted its meddling around the world.

   But, as all of these presidents – Democratic and Republican – understood, holding out for the impossible is a recipe for no progress at all. Congress should take the same approach today to the Iran nuclear deal.”

And they continue,

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, members of Congress must think long and hard about the consequences if this agreement is turned down. There is no escaping the conclusion that there will inevitably be grave implications for U.S. security and for U.S. international leadership in the decades ahead. Sanctions allies will go their own way, reducing the effectiveness of our financial tools and leaving Iran in a stronger position across the board.  Any future effort by this president or the next to assemble a “sanctions coalition” relating to Iran or other security challenges will be weakened. U.S. leadership, diplomacy and credibility, including efforts to achieve support for possible military action against Iran, will all be severely damaged.”

Former Chairmen of the Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin and John Warner made the argument that if the US walks away from this deal and then later finds Iran pursuing a bomb, it will find it harder to work with allies on a military strike having previously undermined the diplomatic approach.

Specifically, they argue,

The deal on the table is a strong agreement on many counts, and it leaves in place the robust deterrence and credibility of a military option. We urge our former colleagues not to take any action which would undermine the deterrent value of a coalition that participates in and could support the use of a military option. The failure of the United States to join the agreement would have that effect.”

Wise words from wise men – Republican and Democratic alike.

Mr. President, There have been decades of mistrust between the US and Iran. 

I myself cannot forget what happened in 1979 when our embassy was seized and more than 60 Americans were held hostage for 444 days.  There were mock executions and other inhumane acts.  Anyone who is familiar with this story knows the pain these people and their families suffered.

And no one can forget the horrible threats made by some Iranian leaders against the Israeli people or denials of the Holocaust.

Israel has genuine security concerns about Iran.  So do I. 

But at the end of the day, I believe this agreement is the best way to take one of those concerns – an Iranian nuclear bomb – off the table. 

It won’t change Iranian behavior overnight.  But in the long term, it also has the potential to empower the Iranian moderates – those who want a more open and internationally respected country.

Let’s not forget, Iran has one of the most pro-Western secular populations in the region – one hungry for greater connection to the world.  Iran’s leaders know this – and that is no doubt why Iranian hardliners are so opposed to this deal.

It is also important to remember that this is an agreement negotiated in partnership by the US and other key global powers – Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China.  

And in a meeting last month in the Middle East, the Gulf Cooperation Council also strongly supported the deal – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

In total, more than 100 countries have publicly supported this agreement. 

So at the end of the day, we should follow the words of President Kennedy – “Let us never negotiate out of fear.  But let us never fear to negotiate.” 

Mr. President, I believe that is exactly what President Obama and the world powers have accomplished with this unprecedented agreement.

It’s time for us to show the same courageous leadership here in the Senate.

END TEXTS

We will continue to follow the debate and votes and their meaning of national security and peace in the Middle East.

We welcome your comments!

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