U.S. SENATE News:
Bipartisan agreement would enable congressional oversight without jeopardizing negotiations
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, joined a majority of senators in voting 98-1 Thursday for legislation that would allow Congress 30 days to review a proposed nuclear deal with Iran. He issued the following statement:
“A nuclear armed Iran is a serious threat, and any nuclear nonproliferation agreement affects the Middle East, our nation and our allies. While I don’t believe this legislation is necessary to ensure Congress can oversee such an agreement, I do agree that Congress must have an oversight role, and I supported this bill because it is the best possible compromise. This agreement guarantees Congress 30 days to review the deal – to hold hearings and ask the tough questions – without weakening the president’s hand to continue critical negotiations.
“I want to be clear that I believe Congress should give the president the room he needs to negotiate. This is a world of imperfect choices, and if negotiations fail – make no mistake – our options are limited and likely costly. We are dealing with an unstable region. Use of force or regime change has unforeseen consequences. That path may seem simple – it is not. Both recent history in Iraq and the history of our interactions with Iran in the 20th century surely have taught us that much.”
Before the vote, Udall delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor:
I rise today to support the president’s negotiations with the P5+1 and Iran, and to speak about the tremendous work—especially at the national labs—to create a framework agreement that meets the scientific requirements to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Congress must have an oversight role, and while I do not believe this bill is necessary to have such a role, I do believe it is the best compromise to ensure a congressional role without weakening the president’s hand to continue critical negotiations.
I also want to express my support for the Corker-Menendez bill as passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
First—let’s be clear—we all agree on one basic point. A nuclear-armed Iran is a serious threat. No one doubts this. No one questions the history of Iran’s deception. That history is well-documented. The danger is evident.
This is the greatest nuclear nonproliferation challenge of our time. It is of tremendous import to our nation, to the Middle East region, and to our ally, Israel. It is a challenge that we must meet. We do not disagree on the danger. We disagree on the response.
The Corker-Menendez bill is truly bipartisan. It passed the Foreign Relations Committee—on which I am proud to serve—unanimously. I want to thank Chairman Corker and ranking member Cardin for their leadership and all their hard work to find a compromise solution.
This is a solid bill. It gives Congress the opportunity to review a final agreement—to hold hearings and ask the tough questions. And it creates an orderly method for Congress to approve or disapprove of any final agreement, providing more than enough time for both.
The administration still has work to do, and needs time to do it. I believe the framework agreement has promise to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, protect Israel and prevent a new war in the Middle East.
It will increase verification and access to sites. Iran’s enrichment capability will be curtailed, and it would take longer for Iran to secure the nuclear materials needed to make a bomb. As a result, the U.S. and its allies would have much more time to respond if Iran attempted to break out and build a nuclear weapon.
This is not speculation. This is not wishful thinking. Energy Secretary Moniz and Secretary of State Kerry make this commitment clear. If anyone doubts this—visit our nuclear security experts at the labs in New Mexico, California and Oak Ridge, Tennessee, or Argonne in Illinois. Talk to the engineers and scientists who know the most about nuclear weapons and what is needed to make them.
As the Secretary said in his recent op-ed in the Washington Post, “An important part of the parameters is a set of restrictions that would significantly increase the time it would take Iran to produce the nuclear material needed for a weapon—the breakout time—if it pursued one. The current breakout time is just two to three months…that would increase to at least a year for at least 10 years, more than enough time to mount an effective response.”
Secretary Moniz goes on to say that, “The negotiated parameters would block Iran’s four pathways to a nuclear weapon—the path through plutonium production at the Arak reactor, two paths to a uranium weapon through the Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities, and the path of covert activity.”
These negotiations must continue. The president and his team must have room to proceed. Let’s not kid ourselves. This process is complex. It is daunting. Success is not guaranteed.
I will oppose any amendments to the Corker-Menendez bill that would tie the president’s hands. Efforts such as the letter sent by 47 members of this body and other efforts to derail negotiations only serve to confound and to weaken our position. Politics must stop at the water’s edge.
The Senate will have ample time to review any agreement and to approve or reject any agreement. But our debate is within these halls. It is with each other—with our fellow senators and with our president. The Ayatollah has no place in that debate.
The Congress should give the president the room he needs to negotiate. This is a world of imperfect choices, and if negotiations fail—make no mistake—our options are limited and likely costly.
We are dealing with an unstable region. Use of force or regime change has unforeseen consequences.
That path may seem simple. It is not. Both recent history in Iraq and the history of our interactions with Iran in the 20th century surely have taught us that much.
Senators Corker and Cardin have given us a solid bill. One that is in the best tradition of the Senate and in the best interest of our country. I commend them for this, and I urge my colleagues to support the bill.