Videos & Speeches
Apr 27 2015
Mr. President, this week we are going to, in my view, deal with one of the most concerning, one of the most dangerous, one of the most treacherous issues that we will face--that I will face as a member of the U.S. Senate and, certainly, has been in the short period of time I have had the honor of representing Kansans here in our nation's capital. It is the question of Iran. It is the question of their ability to acquire nuclear weapons.
On this question of Iran, American policymakers are approaching a number of fateful decisions--in fact, a series of decisions that I think have significant consequences. The implications of the choices that will be made by our nation and others will determine events today, tomorrow, and well into the future, both regionally and globally. As I indicated, the consequences will be felt for decades--generations, perhaps--to come.
Such significant consequences require each step to be planted with great care and consideration. I fear that the recent American march into nuclear negotiations with Iran has been misguided, drawing our country and the global community into a dangerous position.
American foreign policy with respect to Iran has long been centered around the goal of preventing Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapon capability. Today, this policy has weathered and has been allowed to be weakened. It has become a position of delayed tolerance of a nuclear Iran. This policy deterioration was made clear in recent weeks by global affairs minds no less than former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, who wrote: “… negotiations that began 12 years ago as an international effort to prevent an Iranian capability to develop a nuclear arsenal are ending with an agreement that concedes that very capability…”
The administration's stated goal of securing a 1-year nuclear development breakout period reveals a shift from firm disapproval to acquiescence. The result, in my view, is a world that is much less safe, a Middle East that is further prone to violent conflict and an international order trending toward nuclear armaments rather than walking away from it.
Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif pointed this out last week in his writing in the New York Times: “Nothing in international politics functions in a vacuum. Security cannot be pursued at the expense of the insecurity of others. No nation can achieve its interests without considering the interests of others. Nowhere are these dynamics more evident than in the wider Persian Gulf region.”
That is the Foreign Minister of Iran speaking. Mr. Zarif's words apply to the pending nuclear question and the budding proposal to exchange sanctions relief for a temporary suspension of Iranian nuclear development. The decisions made by Iran and the P5+1 participants in these nuclear negotiations are being considered and acted upon and responded to by others in the region and others around the globe. As Iran's neighboring states are looking to increase arms purchases for use in the ongoing conflicts in their region, international concerns about a nuclear-capable Iran are not merely passive policy critiques. They are warnings worthy of our careful, determined consideration.
I would suggest and I will ask what we must ask: Does this pending accord make the world safer or more dangerous? Does it bring Iran closer to or further from nuclear capabilities? Can the world trust Iran to uphold its commitments? Will the terms of the deal be sufficiently verifiable to know if they do not?
Ultimately, we must ask if this deal would stabilize tensions in the Middle East or accelerate them. These questions are greater than any grappling things that go on between Congress and the President, between Republicans and Democrats. This cannot and should not be a politically partisan issue. It should be one of serious consideration about long-term consequences to America, its allies, and our enemies.
The nuclear accord will have serious and lasting consequences for us all. It is incumbent upon American leadership to guide these efforts in the safest possible direction. In my view, our trajectory to date has been uncertain. In response, Congress has insisted--and rightfully so--that it oversee and participate in the process, especially in any decision regarding the lifting of sanctions.
The President's efforts to ignore or sidestep the legislative branch's constitutional role in foreign policy are troublesome. Many, including me, have been asking why Congress lacks the ability to block or more forcefully respond to a potential bad deal or to do more to limit the President's ability to act unilaterally. Unfortunately, the law resulting from the previously passed sanctions legislation allows the President to waive sanctions under certain conditions--the legislation that we passed.
Let me say that again. The legislation that we passed over a period of time--and I am a Member of the banking committee involved in this legislation--allowed a President--this or other Presidents--to waive those sanctions under considerations of national security. What we regrettably discovered is that Congress provided way too much flexibility to a President too willing to ignore the concerns of the legislature, too willing to find a reason to waive the sanctions.
But there remains reason of hope that Congress will play a constructive and important part in this matter. Despite opposition from the White House, bipartisan efforts led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Corker have produced legislation providing for a congressional review process. The bill had broad bipartisan support, and perhaps that makes it impervious to President Obama's initial threats of a veto.
Any increased role by Congress is welcomed, from my perspective. For too long, Congress has deferred to Executive action when it comes to foreign relations and foreign affairs--not just this Congress and this President, but many Congresses and many Presidents. In my view, Congress has failed its constitutional authority to oversee a President's foreign policy efforts.
So this increased role for Congress is welcome. And for anyone who is skeptical of the framework released by the State Department in early April or curious about what the parameters might look like in a final deal, Congress will have the ability to see, to know, and to let the American people, and, in fact, the world know what these agreements might contain.
After the presumed passage of the Iran Nuclear Review Act--the legislation we have been considering this week--if it passes and the case is that a deal is ultimately struck and an agreement is struck by the June 30 deadline between the administration, the P5+1, and Iran, Congress will have 30 days to review that agreement.
As we began late last week and early this week to consider this legislation, the point in being here at this stage is to indicate that while I wish there were more opportunities for congressional involvement in the process, what the committee has presented to us gives us the starting point, the beginning point, and the opportunity to explore fully what the administration has been negotiating in secret.
I have attended the meetings--the so-called classified briefings--and it is hard to leave those meetings with an understanding or appreciation or more knowledge of what is in the potential agreement with Iran than before I walked in the door. What will transpire this week on the Senate floor gives me and others the opportunity--and ultimately the American people--to know a lot more.
As this process has been developed and as we implement it here on the Senate floor, it is important that we use this time to carefully examine the results of any nuclear negotiations and ask ourselves this question: Is the world better off as a result of that agreement? Is peace more assured, and does humanity have a better future?
We don't have the agreement in front of us yet, but what we do this week sets the stage for that review, for that understanding, and for the ability to reject, if necessary. What that agreement contains is important. It is encouraging to me to see that the Senate--the Congress, in fact--is stepping forward to play its rightful constitutional role in foreign affairs.
I look forward to the discussion this week, but more importantly, I look forward to the passage of legislation that allows us to have a much greater say, much more significant knowledge, and a better opportunity to have understanding about a potential treacherous path that our country may be headed toward.