This morning, U.S. Senator Gary Peters released an announcement saying that he will reluctantly be voting to support President Obama and the nuclear deal his administration negotiated with Iran to prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon. His statement is thoughtful and brings up important points to consider as we move forward.
Despite my serious concerns with this agreement, I have unfortunately become convinced that we are faced with no viable alternative. I have met with representatives for each of our negotiating partners, whom have all stated that they will not return to the negotiating table if Congress rejects this deal. Further, I believe a rejection of this agreement will damage the international credibility of the United States, and that attempting to go it alone and implement unilateral sanctions without a coalition of nations will only weaken our standing. […]
Despite my serious reservations, I will reluctantly vote against a motion of disapproval because I believe that doing so will protect the credibility of the United States to hold Iran accountable to adhere to every single obligation in the JCPOA. But if Iran fails to meet its international obligations under this accord, I will support the immediate reinstatement of Congressional sanctions, and I will encourage my colleagues in Congress to do the same. Given the terms of this agreement, especially after fifteen years when Iran’s breakout time shrinks back to months or even weeks, preventing an Iranian nuclear breakout may require the use of military force, and if necessary I will support doing so to ensure the United States, Israel and the global community never has to face the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran.
As of my writing of this, 41 Senators have agreed to support the Obama administration. Some, however, will vote for cloture, allowing a vote on the Republican-sponsored resolution of disapproval. If a couple more agree to vote against cloture, the matter will not come to a vote and a veto by President Obama will be unnecessary.
Kudos to Senator Peters for his leadership. His full statement follows.
“The threat of Iran’s nuclear ambitions has been an issue facing the United States and the international community for almost two decades, and it has been an especially critical concern throughout my entire career in the United States Congress. During my first term in the House of Representatives, Congress passed robust sanctions in order to isolate Iran and weaken its economy. At the same time, the United States worked to pass a United Nations Security Council resolution to increase sanctions on Iran.
“I strongly supported these efforts, and I consistently cosponsored legislation that helped enact one of the most effective sanctions regimes in United States history. It is important to remember, at the time, sanctions were not universally supported, and some criticized tough sanctions as an aggressive tactic antithetical to diplomacy rather than a tool to enable it.
“Today, we know that criticism was wrong. The passage of strong sanctions, led by the United States, were exactly what helped bring Iran to the negotiating table. After Iran blew deadline after deadline for reaching a deal, I joined an effort to put additional sanctions in place because Iran needed to know that the patience of the United States is not limitless.
“Iran, the United States and the other leading world powers in the P5+1 have now come to an agreement with respect to Iran’s nuclear program. Each member of Congress has had the chance to reflect on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) before us and make their own decision as to how effectively the agreement will safeguard America and our allies from the potential of a nuclear-armed Iran, which would be an unacceptable threat to the security and safety of America, the Middle East and pose an existential threat to the State of Israel.
“No issue that I have faced as a Member of Congress has been more consequential than the one before us now. Putting in place a deal that fails to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon could put the United States, our men and women in uniform and our allies in the region at risk. However, hastily rejecting an agreement that steers Iran away from the nuclear path could likewise produce the same result. At every step in this process, I have closely considered the consequences of both courses of action when evaluating arguments from both supporters and opponents of this agreement.
“I have undertaken a thorough review of the JCPOA, attending both classified and unclassified briefings and speaking directly with President Obama, Secretary Kerry, Secretary Moniz, Secretary Lew, Ambassador Wendy Sherman and numerous other Administration officials and members of the U.S. negotiating team. I have also consulted with Ambassadors representing Israel, Gulf nations, and our P5+1 negotiating partners. I have asked questions of nuclear non-proliferation experts and sought further information from the private-sector nuclear energy industry. I have heard from Michiganders on both sides of this issue, who have fervent and passionate beliefs about their position, but all of who shared the same goal of a more peaceful and secure world. I am grateful to have had the benefit of their insights while evaluating this difficult decision.
“I have also just returned from a trip to five countries in the Middle East, where I met with prime ministers, foreign ministers, diplomats and leaders in civil society from the Gulf region, as well as generals and servicemembers from our own armed forces. Having served in the U.S. Navy Reserve, the welfare of our men and women in uniform is always in the forefront of my mind when Congress is asked to cast such a critical vote that affects the security of our nation and the world.
“There are many things I would prefer were not part of this agreement. I, along with many others, am concerned that Iran – the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism – will be able to access tens of billions of dollars in frozen assets. Given Iran’s record of financing terrorist activity, the unfreezing of these assets could lead to Iranian efforts that will further destabilize an already fragile region.
“The release of these assets is of even greater concern because in the weeks since the JCPOA was signed, the Iranian regime has restated its commitment to the destruction of the State of Israel. The fact remains that Iran continues to be a threat to the security of Israel, as well as many of our other allies in the region. As a result, America must reaffirm our long-standing commitment to Israel’s security by renewing our Memorandum of Understanding, providing Israel with upgraded defense capabilities in order to cement its Qualitative Military Edge in the region and bolstering Israel’s ability to initiate deterrence against Iran.
“My core concern with this agreement lies with the basic issue that has always been before us – the enrichment of uranium by Iran. This deal allows Iran, under the same leadership that refers to the United States as the Great Satan and calls for the destruction of Israel, to enrich uranium on its own soil. This core concession is in many ways a stark departure from our country’s past non-proliferation policies, and it concerns me that this agreement could set a dangerous precedent as developing nations around the world look to nuclear power to meet their growing domestic demands for energy and electricity. The United States does not recognize enrichment as a right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and it is clear that a domestic enrichment capacity is not needed for a peaceful nuclear program. Today there are nearly twenty countries producing nuclear electricity without their own domestic enrichment programs.
“How can the United States say with moral authority that this deal is acceptable for Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism intent on regional hegemony, but deny it to others? Because the United States does not maintain that there is a right to enrich uranium, our prior policies in aiding nuclear programs have reflected that belief. Just a few years ago, the United States signed and ratified a “123” agreement with the United Arab Emirates that will help them build nuclear power capabilities while explicitly preventing their own enrichment of uranium. Allowing the UAE to enrich uranium was considered an unacceptable nuclear proliferation risk. I am concerned that other nations will view this agreement with Iran as a change in U.S. policy and new precedent that may lead to increased global proliferation of nuclear enrichment and the potential for other nuclear threshold states to emerge.
“Despite these concerns, there are many parts of this agreement that deserve to be commended and serve to stem the proliferation of highly enriched uranium in the short term. Under the accord, Iran must ship out or dilute 98 percent of its enriched uranium and greatly limit its number of centrifuges. For the next 15 years Iran can only enrich uranium to 3.67 percent; a level that is sufficient to facilitate safe nuclear power but below what is needed to develop a nuclear weapon. These important protocols will stretch out Iran’s break out time from an estimated two or three months today to approximately one year when implemented.
“Additionally, this deal provides for the most intrusive inspections and verification regime ever negotiated. Iran’s key nuclear facilities will be subject to around-the-clock monitoring from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). These inspections will substantially increase our situational awareness of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, procurement and supply chain, providing insights beyond what critical intelligence assets would normally collect and enhance our ability to carry out a military strike, if necessary, to enforce the agreement in the future.
“In addition, for the next 20 years, Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing facilities will be under constant surveillance. For the next 25 years, Iran’s uranium mines and mills will also be under constant surveillance.
“Although the agreement contains positive aspects, I remain extremely concerned that after fifteen years, the restrictions on how much uranium Iran can enrich and to what level expire and Iran will once again return to its current status as a nuclear threshold state with a breakout time of just a couple of months, if not weeks. It is disconcerting that Iran can achieve this status without breaking the rules or bending the agreement. To be clear, in fifteen years, Iran will be allowed to be a legitimized threshold nuclear state.
“Fifteen years may seem like a very long time, but fifteen years from now, a different president and a different Congress may once again face the threat of an Iran with nuclear weapons capability and access to industrial-style enrichment. That future Iran will likely be wealthier and less isolated than the Iran of today, and may pose a more significant threat to the U.S. and world security.
“So the question remains, what will the government of the United States do to ensure that the terms of the JCPOA do not become the new normal? How can we ensure that inspections and verification responsibility remains with independent investigators such as the experts at the IAEA? What will we do to ensure that Iran does not have domestic enrichment capabilities that we will not even entrust to our allies? These have been the central questions vexing me during my deliberations on JCPOA. In the next fifteen years, the world community must continue to act in unison and move towards a stronger non-proliferation policy than was embodied in this agreement. My fear is that fifteen years from now, America and the world will face an Iran that sees its enrichment power as legitimized, that is wealthier and more economically powerful, and an Iran that is fortified with new weapons and air defenses as embargoes on conventional arms and ballistic missiles expire five and eight years from now.
“While zero uranium enrichment would be the preferred outcome of this agreement, I concede it is not realistic to expect that Iran would agree to forgo all enrichment. The JCPOA would be much stronger if it included protocols that permanently limit Iran’s enrichment levels. And if Iran insisted on enrichment of uranium, America and our negotiating partners should have insisted on ensuring that those levels remain below the level necessary for weaponization in perpetuity.
“Despite my serious concerns with this agreement, I have unfortunately become convinced that we are faced with no viable alternative. I have met with representatives for each of our negotiating partners, whom have all stated that they will not return to the negotiating table if Congress rejects this deal. Further, I believe a rejection of this agreement will damage the international credibility of the United States, and that attempting to go it alone and implement unilateral sanctions without a coalition of nations will only weaken our standing.
“As this agreement moves forward, the United States must set a clear policy opposing any efforts by Iran to acquire highly enriched uranium. Congress should ensure that the Iran Sanctions Act is not allowed to expire, so that the sanctions architecture remains as a backstop if snapback sanctions are implemented. Thus, I will support a renewal of the Iran Sanctions Act. The JCPOA remains a political agreement, and the United States must continue to pursue a policy that seeks to limit Iran’s enrichment program beyond the deadlines of this agreement. Supporting these diplomatic efforts improves the ability of the United States to seek further measures to ensure that Iran never possesses a nuclear weapon.
“The JCPOA is not the end of our multilateral efforts against Iran and its illicit behavior. America must continue working with our allies to initiate multilateral sanctions against Iran for its terrorist activities, especially for its funding of Hezbollah and Hamas. We also need to set clear understandings of how Iran will be sanctioned for minor violations that won’t initiate the snapback of full sanctions. I am fully committed to working with my colleagues to address these issues in the months ahead.
“We must also ensure that all inspections are undertaken by IAEA monitors and that Iran is not allowed to self-inspect at any disputed sites. And the United States must continue working in a coordinated fashion to ensure unity in purpose against Iran’s nuclear program, Iranian terrorism, and Iran’s efforts to destabilize the Middle East. The United States must also continue pressing for the release of all U.S. hostages senselessly imprisoned in Iran, including my constituent Amir Hekmati.
“Despite my serious reservations, I will reluctantly vote against a motion of disapproval because I believe that doing so will protect the credibility of the United States to hold Iran accountable to adhere to every single obligation in the JCPOA. But if Iran fails to meet its international obligations under this accord, I will support the immediate reinstatement of Congressional sanctions, and I will encourage my colleagues in Congress to do the same. Given the terms of this agreement, especially after fifteen years when Iran’s breakout time shrinks back to months or even weeks, preventing an Iranian nuclear breakout may require the use of military force, and if necessary I will support doing so to ensure the United States, Israel and the global community never has to face the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran.”
[Photo by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog.]