Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) told an audience at Seton Hall University in South Orange that he will vote against the multinational agreement aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
His Aug. 18 announcement came as little surprise to many of the 400 people in the audience — many from leadership positions in the state’s Jewish community — who came to hear his 45-minute address at the Catholic university’s Jubilee Hall.
His speech makes Menendez the Senate’s second Democrat to oppose the deal as of Aug. 18. The first was Charles Schumer of New York.
Four Jewish representatives — Ted Deutch of Florida and Nita Lowey, Steve Israel, and Eliot Engle of New York — are among the 11 Democrats in the House to have declared their opposition.
Congress has until Sept. 17 to vote on the agreement; the White House needs 34 votes in the Senate and 145 House members to sustain the president’s expected veto if Congress votes down the deal.
Calling his decision of “a momentous nature,” the former chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the author of tough sanctions legislation against Iran said he reached his conclusion on the basis of whether “it is in my judgment, in the national interest and security of our country to do so…. In this case a secondary, but important, question is what it means for our great ally — the State of Israel — and our other partners in the Gulf.”
Saying that he came to his opposition “as someone who, unlike many of my Republican colleagues, reflexively oppose everything the president proposes,” Menendez went on to spell out numerous reasons for rejecting the deal.
He said that one major objection was that Iran cannot be trusted.
“We know that despite the fact that Iran claims their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, they have violated the international will, as expressed by various UN Security Council Resolutions, and by deceit, deception, and delay advanced their program to the point of being a threshold nuclear state,” he said.
The Iranians have failed “to come absolutely clean about their weaponization activities,” said Menendez, “and will not promise anytime, anywhere inspections.”
He argued that lifting sanctions — even gradually — would allow Iran to enrich uranium in eight years. “At year 15, Iran will have no limits on its uranium stockpile,” he said.
“The deal enshrines for Iran and in fact commits the international community to assist Iran in [the ability to develop] an industrial-scale nuclear power program, complete with industrial scale enrichment.”
Menendez acknowledged that Iran’s nuclear program will be subject to its obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, but, he said, the deal “fails to appreciate Iran’s history of deception in its nuclear program and its violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.”
He argued that “as the largest state sponsor of terrorism, Iran — which has exported its revolution to Assad in Syria, the Houthis in Yemen, Hizbullah in Lebanon, and directed and supported attacks against American troops in Iraq — will be flush with money, not only to invest in their domestic economy, but to further pursue their destabilizing, hegemonic goals in the region.”
Whether or not Iran does develop nuclear weapons, Menendez said, it possesses two ballistic missile systems with ranges up to 1,250 miles — a wide region that encompasses all of the Middle East, as well as parts of North Africa and Eastern Europe.
“President Obama continues to erroneously say that this agreement permanently stops Iran from having a nuclear bomb,” Menendez said, but “what the agreement does is recommit Iran not to pursue a nuclear bomb — a promise they have already violated in the past…. So the suggestion of permanence, in this case, is only possible for so long as Iran complies and performs according to the agreement — because the bottom line is that this agreement leaves Iran with the core element of a robust nuclear infrastructure.”
Denying that war would be the only alternative if Congress rejects the agreement, Menendez said, “There is a pathway to a better deal…. We can disapprove this agreement without rejecting the entire agreement.”
He suggested that Congress “direct the administration to renegotiate by authorizing the continuation of negotiations,” with the aim of arriving at an agreement that would “ensure that we have a permanent international arrangement with Iran for access to suspect sites,” a ban on centrifuge research and development, the closing of the Iranian nuclear enrichment facility at Fordow, and an extension of the agreement’s duration from 15 to 20 years.
Menendez received a hearty round of applause when he said, “We should make it absolutely clear that we want a deal, but we want the right deal — and that a deal that does nothing more than delay the inevitable isn’t a deal we will make.”
“I have looked into my own soul, and my devotion to principle may…lead me to an unpopular course, but if Iran is to acquire a nuclear bomb, it will not have my name on it,” he concluded. “It is for these reasons that I will vote to disapprove the agreement and, if called upon, would vote to override a veto.”