WASHINGTON — A defiant Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) underlined his differences with the White House over Iran Monday, in a speech to 16,000 delegates at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
“I am not intimidated by anyone,” said Menendez, who was among the senators who introduced a bill on Feb. 27 that would keep President Obama from suspending sanctions on Iran for 60 days while Congress considers any deal. “Not Israel’s political enemies and not my political friends.”
Menendez slammed administration assertions that it wants to keep Iran’s “breakout capacity” – the time it would take Iran to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon – at one year.
“It is not a good deal if it leaves Iran as a threshold nuclear state,” said Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “If we have no more than a year to respond, it’s not enough time for us to do anything other than exercise a military option.”
Memendez was also critical of National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who spoke before him and made it clear that the administration opposes legislation that would automatically hit Iran with sanctions if a deal is not reached by a March 24 deadline. Last week, Rice said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned address to Congress was “destructive of the fabric of the relationship” between U.S. and Israel.
“I must disagree with those who say the Prime Minister’s visit to the United States is destructive to U.S.-Israel relations,” Menendez said. “Tomorrow I will be proud when I escort the Prime Minister to the House chamber to give his speech.”
The White House said it will veto a bill that would subject any Iran nuclear deal to congressional approval.
The bill was introduced by Menendez NS Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the chairman of its Middle East subcommittee; and Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the foreign operations subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.
Kaine’s support is especially notable, as the Virginia lawmaker has been among the administration’s most consistent backers in its participation in the nuclear talks between Iran and the major powers.
“I believe Congress should weigh in on the content of the deal given the centrality of the congressional sanctions to the entire negotiation and the significant security interests involved,” Kaine said in the statement announcing the bill.
AIPAC added the bill to the agenda for its lobbying day on Tuesday, when thousands of activists head to Capitol Hill.
Already on its agenda is seeking co-sponsorship for a bill that would add new sanctions on Iran should it walk away from talks.
The bill would keep the president from suspending sanctions on Iran for 60 days while Congress considers any deal.
The White House maintains that any new legislation would scuttle talks underway.
“The president has been clear that now is not the time for Congress to pass additional legislation on Iran,” Bernadette Meehan, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said in an email.
“If this bill is sent to the president, he will veto it. We are in the final weeks of an international negotiation. We should give our negotiators the best chance of success, rather than complicating their efforts.”
With reporting by JTA and Jared Sichel, Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles