September 16, 2015

Remarks on President’s Iran Deal

The challenge in speaking after so many others have on this Iranian Agreement is that almost every angle, Madame President, has been addressed. But the advantage is that I have been able to learn what others have to say and perhaps introduce new ideas. 

I am actually struck that Democrats and Republicans agree.  We all agree that the Iranian agreement is flawed, that it does not achieve the objectives originally defined by President Obama and everyone is worried that the Iranians will use a portion of the $50 to 100 billion that they receive as a result of this agreement to advance the cause of terrorism. 

What we do not agree on is whether or not the administration could have and can get a better deal. Ironically, Republicans have more faith in the President than the President’s fellow Democrats do.  Republicans think that if Barack Obama and John Kerry call them back up and show leadership among our allies, that we can do better, and Democrats think not.  I continue to have more faith in the President and Secretary Kerry than my Democratic colleagues.

Because you see, typically the stronger party in a negotiation gets the better deal. It seems as if the US and our allies were the stronger party. Iran’s economy is in terrible shape. The regime’s survival is threatened by dissatisfaction with 25 years of a corrupt, theocratic autocracy with economic mismanagement. Iran needs to earn $130/barrel of oil to meet the government’s obligations and oil is far below that. Iran’s trading partners are limited. And aside from this, the Iranian people want freedom.  There is discontent with the regime.

But far from the stronger party prevailing, this Agreement concedes on the very goals it sought to achieve. We pursued this agreement with the intention of ridding Iran of its nuclear program. Instead, we have agreed to lift sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy and give them immediate access to $60 billion dollars, essentially bailing out a struggling regime; and, it’s fair to ask, in return for what? According to the President and my colleagues who support this deal, we get the opportunity to not go to war and all Iran had to do was simply agree to continue developing and running their nuclear program in a peaceful manner.

But, to quote Leon Wieseltier, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, “This agreement was designed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. If it does not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons—and it seems uncontroversial to suggest that it does not guarantee such an outcome—then it does not solve the problem that it was designed to solve. And if it does not solve the problem that it was designed to solve, then it is itself not an alternative, is it? The status is still quo.”

How can it be the claim that this Iranian agreement protects the American people from the dangers of war when we are also told that the U.S. must provide more military support to our allies in the region because of this deal increasing the likelihood of war? Secretary Kerry acknowledged this in his September the 2nd letter that indeed war is more likely. I quote, “Iran’s continued support for terrorist and proxy groups throughout the region, its propping up of the Asad regime in Syria, its efforts to undermine the stability of its regional neighbors, and the threat it poses to Israel” are real concerns. He goes on to say that, “we have no illusion that this behavior will change following the implementation of the JCPOA.” Why are we willingly, I ask not he, legitimizing the nuclear program of a country that we feel this way about? Or worse yet, why are we willingly agreeing to lift sanctions, which gives Iran billions of dollars, and an improved economy and therefore the extra resources with which they can buy and distribute conventional weapons, which Iran can now buy legally?

As regards the purchase of conventional weapons, in the final hours of negotiations the lifting of the embargo against the sale of conventional weapons and missiles was added to this deal. In just 5 years we lift the embargo against conventional weapons. In only 8 we lift the embargo against ballistic missiles. Secretary Kerry has declared that this provision is a win. The terrible thing about this deal, Madame President, is that it is full of wins such as this. Iran’s interest is advanced and the rest of the world is less safe. 

This does not add up. We have the administration claiming that the regime is weak underneath our sanctions and for that reason Rouhani was able to persuade Khamenei to come to the table for negotiations and yet states that Iran’s opposition to lifting the arms embargo was too strong to resist. The country cannot be both too strong and too weak at the same time.


Furthermore, knowing that the Iranians have cheated on numerous previous nuclear agreements, why don’t we have a stronger mechanism with which to punish them should they cheat? All this deal puts in place is sanctions “snapback”. The hope is that re-imposing sanctions on Iran will once more cripple their economy. The same sanctions that have been implemented over many years are expected to somehow immediately return to full strength. What is to say that countries, like Russia or China, which were initially reluctant to impose the sanctions on Iran, would agree to snapback should Iran cheat?  Especially, considering how much stronger Iran will be once their economy is given the chance to rebound, it seems more likely that these countries believe that the economic advantages of lifting sanctions on Iran far outweigh the implications of a nuclear Iran.

The above has been stated one way or another by others. But I will now discuss something, which has not been discussed, Madame President, in relation to the Iranian Agreement, but I am surprised is not of greater concern to Democrats. 

In its environmental impact statement issued in February 2014, the State Department estimated that the Keystone XL pipeline, which would ultimately carry 830,000 barrels of oil daily, could increase emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases by 1.3 to 27.4 million metric tons annually. 

Based on these calculations, President Obama has denied Americans a chance to expand our energy independence and to in turn, create 40,000 direct and many more indirect.

If this deal goes through though – the Iranian deal, the Iranian oil minister, stated that Iran could send 500,000 barrels of oil per day to the market immediately upon easing of sanctions and up to 1 million barrels of oil per day within within 6 months. 

Now according to a rough estimate by a DC think tank, if Iran increases their oil production by this much it will release 156 million more tons of carbon dioxide per day. 

Now wait a second, if we build the Keystone XL Pipeline, we may have 1.3 million metric tons – we can’t do that because of greenhouse gases, but the Iranian agreement, which the President has said has to occur, will increase greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 156 million metric tons, over a hundred times more.  If climate change is the greatest threat to the United States, even greater than a nuclear Iran, it seems like in this, the President has said he is willing to accept that danger in order to give the Iranians this deal.  

Well I return to where I started, I ask my democratic Senate colleagues to not have such low expectations of the President and to demand a better deal for the American people. I stand by the assertion that the alternative to this bad deal is not war, but a better deal.  I am confident that our nation can stand from a position of power and negotiate the deal we set out to achieve.

Thank you, Madame President