By Daniel Garay
On August 18, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) firmly stated that he would vote against the Iran deal in the Senate. He is the second top-ranking Democrat after Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to break party lines and join the opposition to the agreement.
The School of Diplomacy and International Relations hosted the senator’s televised foreign policy address at Seton Hall University. The former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee noted that he has spent the last two decades dealing with “national security and foreign policy issues…of a momentous nature.” The Iran deal, he said, was “one of those moments.”
Senator Menendez was part of the opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. While his vote, he noted, was unpopular at the time, he declared that it was one of the best decisions he has ever made. He applied the same reasoning and principle to his position against the newly-struck Iran deal.
To bolster his argument, the Senator brought forth research of Iran’s various installations for the research of nuclear material, the enrichment of uranium, and the powering of reactors. In addition, he mentioned quotes from members of organizations vigilant of Iran’s nuclear ambition, at one point using Secretary of State John Kerry’s own words against him—regarding Arak, an Iranian plutonium reactor, Secretary Kerry told senators, “[The Iranians] need to dismantle it or we will destroy it.”
The senator pointed to Iran’s role in destabilizing the Middle East as a reason to oppose and reject the deal. Threats against Israel, support of the Houthis in Yemen, support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are just a few of the positions Iran has taken in the region.
Despite months of negotiation and postponing deadlines, Senator Menendez dismissed the deal as “a purchase of an expensive alarm system.” As the author of sanctions proposals against Iran and a co-author of legislation that mandates the congressional review of the Iran deal, he noted that it calls for the lifting of sanctions. This would unfreeze over $100 billion in Iranian assets and resume trade amongst the contracting nations.
However, the Senator said there is no mechanism for a return to sanctions, contrary to White House claims that disobeying the provisions of the agreement would result in “further isolation and pressure” for Iran. In addition, secret deals between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran recently discovered outside of the agreement may possibly limit the “anytime, anywhere” access of international inspectors.
With the Senator’s opposition explained, he outlined his idea of a better deal: “We can disapprove this agreement, without rejecting the entire agreement.” His proposal calls for the immediate restart of negotiations producing a principled agreement that would be stronger in demands and longer in duration. He claimed it would be more effective than the existing deal as it would demand not only for Iran’s nuclear program to be halted, but also the dismantling of infrastructure that enables it, such as Arak and Fordow bases, where the enrichment of uranium is said to occur under a mountain.