SOUTH ORANGE – With the guillotine blade of a corruption indictment hanging over his neck, a defiant U.S. Senator Bob Menendez went on offense this afternoon, savaging an Iran nuclear deal backed by President Barack Obama. Speaking on the campus of Seton Hall University this afternoon, Menendez explained his opposition to the deal favored by Obama and detailed his rationale for why he intends to vote no in September.
In short, Menendez said, the deal enables a dreaded terror state to create a nuclear bomb.
“Frankly, in my view, the overall sanctions relief being provided, given the Iranians’ understanding of restrictions on the reauthorization of sanctions along with the lifting of the arms and missile embargo well before Iranian compliance over years is established, leaves us in a weak position, and – to me – is unacceptable,” he said.
Menendez explained why the United States comes out on the losing end of the deal, citing no limits on an historically deceptive Iran’s uranium stockpile and expressing worry over the fact that in year eight of the proposal, Iran can start manufacturing and testing advanced IR-6 and IR-8 centrifuges that enrich up to 15 times the speed of its current models.
“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,” said the senator, who’s under indictment on corruption charges that his closest allies insist are political in origin owing in part to the senator’s opposition to the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.
Vowing to vote to disapprove the agreement and, if called upon, to vote to override a veto, Menendez took pains to note that he supported Obama 98% of the time in 2013 and 2014. But he emphatically doesn’t hold with the president on this, where he fears the empowerment of the largest state sponsor of terrorism, which has exported its revolution to Assad in Syria, the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and against American troops in Iraq.
“I am deeply concerned that this is a significant shift in our nonproliferation policy, and about what it will mean in terms of a potential arms race in an already dangerous region,” he said. “While I have many specific concerns about this agreement, my overarching concern is that it requires no dismantling of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and only mothballs that infrastructure for ten years.”
The senator contrasted his own Middle East policy on the commitment of troops to Iraq in 2002 with that of Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, both of whom as senators voted for the authorization of war. He was proud of that no vote, but he also expressed regret over his own failure to proceed with the so-called Menendez-Kirk prospective sanctions legislation that would have provided additional leverage during the negotiations.
Menendez made his remarks at a podium in Jubilee Hall here while his colleague in the senate, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), continues to voice public uncertainty about how he will vote on the agreement, apparently flummoxed by being loyal to both President Barack Obama and a pro-Israel donor base.
While Menendez addressed his vote on the critical the foreign policy question, Booker huddled with Gov. Chris Christie and federal Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx to discuss domestic infrastructure.
Senator Linda Greenstein (D-14) was in attendance at Senator Menendez’s speech, and so were Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36) and Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-33), listening as the senator rejected Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement that the United States must back the agreement or open itself up to war with Iran, and offered his own alternative.
“We can disapprove this agreement, without rejecting the entire agreement,” Menendez said. “We should direct the administration to re-negotiate by authorizing the continuation of negotiations and the Joint Plan of Action – including Iran’s $700 million-a-month lifeline, which to date have accrued to Iran’s benefit to the tune of $10 billion, and pausing further reductions of purchases of Iranian oil and other sanctions pursuant to the original JPOA.”
Menendez received a standing ovation at the close of his address, arguably – given the context of the corruption indictment – the most important of his career. An insider noted that the speech gave every indication of the senator’s plan to fight.
Following the speech, Schaer – the lone Orthodox Jew in the Legislature – issued an emphatic statement of support.
“I applaud Senator Menendez for his thoughtful and measured approach to this agreement,” said the assemblyman. “He has taken the time to study all of the complexities to thoroughly understand the impact this proposal will have on both our short and long term security. While I appreciate the Obama administration’s commitment to diplomacy, I have grave concerns about the proposed deal and its long-term impact on stability both in the region and globally, particularly its ability to protect the security of the United States, Israel and our allies.
“It is with this in mind that I appreciate, all the more, Senator Menendez’s bold stance on this issue,” Schaer added. “The lack of assurance that Iran will not be able to cover up any furtive activity prior to the arrival of inspectors, coupled with the financial incentives Iran stands to gain, raises additional concerns over the ability we will have to curtail Iran’s nuclear capabilities in order to sufficiently limit any threats to global peace. The proposal is further complicated by a historically justified distrust of Iran’s leadership. Time and time again, Iran has lied about its intentions, supported terrorism financially and otherwise, while disregarding the basic tenets of human rights and international law.
“The magnitude of these concerns warrants serious and thoughtful scrutiny by every member of Congress. With so much at stake, I hope others will follow Senator Menendez’s lead.”
By contrast, MoveON.org Political Action Executive Director Illya Sheyman panned the speech.