Senator Collins Announces Position on Iran Nuclear Agreement

To download Senator Collins’ statement from the Senate floor, click HERE. Full transcript of statement below

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, spoke from the Senate floor today to announce her opposition to the Iran nuclear agreement, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Since the JCPOA was announced, Senator Collins has worked to inform her decision, a decision she calls “one of the most important foreign policy decisions ever to face the United States Senate.” Senator Collins has studied the agreement and its annexes, attended Intelligence Committee sessions and other classified briefings, questioned Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, as well as intelligence officials including the top manager for Iran. She has also spoken to United States negotiators and ambassadors, and discussed the agreement with experts of divergent views.

“I have long believed that a verifiable diplomatic agreement with Iran that dismantled its nuclear infrastructure and blocked its pathways to the development of a nuclear weapon would be a major achievement, an accomplishment that would make the world far safer,” said Senator Collins. “Regrettably, that does not describe the agreement that the Administration negotiated. The agreement is fundamentally flawed because it leaves Iran as capable of building a nuclear weapon at the expiration of the agreement as it is today.”

In her remarks, Senator Collins outlined several concerns with the agreement, including:

• At the expiration of the agreement, Iran will be a more dangerous and stronger nuclear threshold state – exactly the opposite of what this negotiation should have produced.

• Major non-nuclear concessions have been made including an end to the embargoes on Iran obtaining intercontinental ballistic weapons (ICBM) technology and conventional weapons. Iran already has ballistic missiles that can reach Israel. An Iranian ICBM poses a direct threat to the United States.

• The inspection regime is flawed and insufficient given Iran’s history of non-compliance. Under this agreement, Iran would have the authority to delay inspection requests from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for 24 days. According to press reports, the Iranians themselves would also be responsible for photographs and environmental sampling of Parchin, a large military installation where nuclear work is suspected to have been conducted and may still be underway.

• The snap-back of economic sanctions won’t work. Iran has said that if the United States or any of its partners insist on re-imposing sanctions, it can simply walk away from the deal.

• Better alternatives exist and agreements have been renegotiated before. The Senate has required changes to more than 200 treaties that were ultimately ratified after congressional concerns were addressed.

Senator Collins’ remarks, as prepared for delivery:

President Obama’s agreement with the Iranian government with respect to its nuclear program is one of the most important foreign policy decisions ever to face the United States Senate.

The vote that we shall cast will not be an easy one. The security of our nation and the stability of the Middle East, as well as America’s leadership in the world, are affected by this agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA.

Thus, I have devoted countless hours to studying the agreement and its annexes, attending Intelligence Committee sessions and other classified briefings, questioning Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz, and our intelligence officials, including the top manager for Iran, talking with our negotiators and with ambassadors, and discussing the agreement with experts with divergent views to ensure that my decision is as well informed as possible.

Let me begin by making clear that I supported the Administration undertaking negotiations with Iran. Indeed, I was heartened when President Obama initially said in October 2012 that “Our goal is to get Iran to recognize it needs to give up its nuclear program and abide by the U.N. resolutions that have been in place....” He said that “the deal we'll accept is, they end their nuclear program. It's very straightforward.”

I was optimistic that the Administration would produce an agreement that would accomplish the goals the President laid out. Along with six other of my Republican colleagues, I did not sign a letter to the leaders of the Iranian government sent in the midst of the negotiations because I wanted to give the Administration every opportunity to complete an agreement that would accomplish the goals that the President himself originally set forth as the purpose of the negotiations.

I have long believed that a verifiable diplomatic agreement with Iran that dismantled its nuclear infrastructure and blocked its pathways to the development of a nuclear weapon would be a major achievement, an accomplishment that would make the world far safer.

Regrettably, that does not describe the agreement that the Administration negotiated. The agreement is fundamentally flawed because it leaves Iran as capable of building a nuclear weapon at the expiration of the agreement as it is today.

Indeed, at that time, Iran will be a more dangerous and stronger nuclear threshold state -- exactly the opposite of what this negotiation should have produced.

As Mark Dubowitz, a noted expert on sanctions, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “Even if Iran doesn’t violate the JCPOA, … it will have patient pathways to nuclear weapons, an ICBM program, access to heavy weaponry, an economy immunized against sanctions pressure, and a more powerful regional position….”

Under the agreement, not a single one of Iran’s 19,000 centrifuges, used to enrich uranium to produce the fissile material for a nuclear bomb, will be destroyed. And Iran will be able to continue its research and development on advanced centrifuges able to enrich uranium more rapidly and effectively.

Not only will Iran retain its nuclear capability, but also it will be a far richer nation and one that has more conventional weapons and military technology than it possesses today.

The lifting of sanctions will give Iran’s leaders access ultimately to more than $100 billion dollars in the form of frozen assets and overseas accounts. Iran will also once again be able to sell its abundant oil on global markets.

Now, the Administration has repeatedly argued that Iranian leaders will invest those billions of dollars into their own economy to improve the lives of their citizens. The record strongly suggests otherwise.

Iran today is the world’s foremost exporter of terrorism, pouring billions of dollars into terrorist groups throughout the region and into funding the murderous Assad regime in Syria. If Iran is financing, arming, and equipping terrorist groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, Syria, and Yemen when its own economy is in shambles and its citizens are suffering, why would anyone believe that it would invest the proceeds of sanctions relief only in its own economy?

I do expect that Iran’s leaders will invest in a few high-profile projects to help their own citizens, but given their history, it is inevitable that billions more will be used to finance terrorism and strengthen Iran’s power and proxies throughout the Middle East.

It is deeply troubling that the Administration secured no concessions at all from Iran, designated by the Director of National Intelligence as the number one state sponsor of terrorism, to cease its support of terrorist groups. Whether it is Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Shiite militias in Iraq, or the Houthis in Yemen, Iran’s proxies are terrorizing innocent civilians, forcing families to flee their homes, and causing death and destruction.

And incredibly, the JCPOA will end the embargos on selling Iran intercontinental ballistic missile technology and conventional weapons, which the Russians are eager to sell them. Think about that for a moment: why would Iran want to buy intercontinental ballistic missile technology?

It already has the deeply troubling capability to launch missile strikes at Israel, which it has pledged to wipe off the face of the earth. ICBM technology poses a direct threat to our nation from a nation whose leaders continue to chant “Death to America!”

We should also remember that Iranian Quds forces were the source of the most lethal improvised explosive devices that were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of our service members in Iraq.

Why would we ever agree to lifting the embargo on sales of conventional weapons that could endanger our forces in the region?

Let me now turn to the issue of enforcement of the agreement by posing the obvious question: Will Iran abide by the agreement and the corresponding U.N. Security Council Resolution, or will it cheat?

Despite being a signatory to the U.N. Charter, Iran has repeatedly violated or ignored the United Nations Security Council’s resolutions aimed at curbing its nuclear program.

In 2006, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution prohibiting Iran from enriching uranium. What happened?

Iran cheated. It has literally thousands of centrifuges spinning to enrich uranium.

Multiple U.N. Security Council Resolutions require Iran to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and to come clean on what is known as the “possible military dimensions” of its nuclear activities to understand how far Iran has progressed in developing the technologies for a nuclear device and to have a verified baseline to evaluate future nuclear-related activities. What happened?

Iran cheated. Not only did it never report to international arms control experts about experiments at its military installation at Parchin, where Iran was suspected of developing detonators for nuclear devices, but also Iran “sanitized” buildings at Parchin in a manner that the IAEA has described as "likely to have undermined the Agency's ability to conduct effective verification." Remarkably, according to public reporting, Iran continued those sanitization activities while Congress was holding hearings on the JCPOA this summer.

In 2010, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution requiring Iran to cease any activity related to ballistic missile activities capable of delivering nuclear weapons. What happened?

Iran cheated. It launched ballistic missiles in July 2012.

Given its history, there is no question in my mind that Iran will try to cheat on the new agreement and exploit any loophole in the text or in the implementing U.N. Security Council Resolution that was adopted before Congress even had a chance to vote on the agreement.

Given Iran’s history of non-compliance, one would think that an iron-clad inspection process would be put in place. That is far from the reality of this agreement. Let me make four points about how Iran can stymie inspections.

First, throughout the term of the agreement, Iran has the authority to delay inspections of undeclared sites, those where inspectors from the IAEA believe that suspicious activities are occurring. Inexplicably, the JCPOA establishes up to a 24-day delay between when the IAEA requests access to a site and when access is granted.

The former Deputy Director General for Safeguards at the IAEA notes that 24 days is sufficient time for Iran “to sanitize” suspected facilities and points out that past concealment activities carried out by Iran in 2003 left no traces to be detected. This is a long way from the “any time, anywhere” inspections that should have been part of the agreement.

Second, no American or Canadian experts will be allowed to be part of the IAEA inspection team unless these countries re-establish official diplomatic relations with Iran. I recognize that the IAEA has many highly qualified experts, but the exclusion of some of the most highly skilled and experienced experts in the world does not inspire confidence.

Third, and most outrageous, according to press reports, the Iranians themselves will be responsible for photographs and environmental sampling at Parchin, a large military installation where nuclear work is suspected to have been conducted and may still be underway. IAEA weapons inspectors will be denied physical access to Parchin. You note that I say “according to press reports.” That is because the actual agreement between the IAEA and Iran is secret and has been withheld from Congress!

As a member of the Intelligence Committee, I have been briefed on the agreement, but like every other member of Congress, I have been denied access to the actual document despite how significant this issue is. The actual text matters because of Iran’s repeated efforts to exploit loopholes.

Fourth, Iran is not required to ratify the Additional Protocol (AP) before sanctions relief is granted -- if ever. The Additional Protocol allows the IAEA permanent inspection access to declared and suspected nuclear sites in a country in order to detect covert nuclear programs.

Ratification of the Protocol would make the AP permanently and legally binding in Iran. One hundred twenty-six countries have already ratified it, including the United States.

Yet, the agreement only requires Iran to “seek ratification” of the Additional Protocol in eight years and to comply with its terms until then. If Iran’s past behavior is any guide, Iran may never ratify the Additional Protocol and be subject to its permanent, legally binding inspection regime.

To prevent Iran from cheating, the Administration has repeatedly pointed to the prospect of an immediate snap-back of sanctions as the teeth of the agreement. I will be surprised if they work as advertised.

First, the rhetoric on the snapback of sanctions is inconsistent. On the one hand, the Administration says that the United States can unilaterally cause the international sanctions to be re-imposed. At the same time, the Administration warns that the sanctions regime is falling apart. Which is it?

Second, Iran has already made explicit in the text of the Agreement that the re-imposition of any sanctions will be treated as grounds to re-start its nuclear program. Included in the JCPOA is this clear statement: “Iran has stated that if sanctions are reinstated in whole or in part, Iran will treat that as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.”

In effect, Iran has given advance notice that if the United States or any of its partners insist on re-imposing sanctions, Iran can simply walk away from the deal. Given their investment in the deal, I am very skeptical that any of the P5+1 countries will be willing to take that action.

After the U.N. Security Council endorsed the deal on July 20th, the Iranians released a statement stating that they may “reconsider its commitments” if new sanctions impair the business and trade resulting from the lifting of nuclear sanctions, “irrespective of whether such new sanctions are introduced on nuclear-related or other grounds.” (emphasis added)

To the Iranians, a sanction is a sanction is a sanction, and Iran appears ready to resume its nuclear activities if any sanctions are re-imposed, even if the purpose is to halt Iran’s financing of terrorist groups.

Third, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, the agreement states that sanctions would not be applied "with retroactive effect to contracts signed between any party and Iran or Iranian entities prior to the date of application."

This grandfathering clause will create an immediate rush of businesses to lock in long-term business contracts with Iran. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif assured Iranian lawmakers that the "swarming of business for reinvesting their money is the biggest barrier" to the re-imposition of sanctions. He is right.

The State Department insists that each case will be worked on an individual basis, but there is no guarantee that any case, much less every case, will be resolved in the short time period necessary.

There are alternatives to the deeply flawed agreement reached in Vienna.

While I recognize that it would be difficult, the fact is the Administration could renegotiate a better deal. As Orde Kittrie, the former lead State Department attorney for nuclear issues, recently noted in The Wall Street Journal, the Senate has required changes to more than 200 treaties that were ultimately ratified after congressional concerns were addressed.

For example, the 1997 resolution of ratification regarding the multilateral Chemical Weapons Convention included 28 conditions inserted by the Senate. The treaty was ultimately ratified and is currently in force in 191 participating countries -- including the United States and Iran. Similarly, the Senate insisted that the Threshold Test Ban Treaty with the Soviet Union have additional provisions strengthening compliance measures before it was ratified.

Of course, one of the problems with this agreement is that it is not in the form of a treaty, which precludes the Senate from inserting reservations, understandings, or declarations.

Another alternative to this agreement would be to further wield our unilateral financial and economic power against those conducting business with key Iranian entities.

As Juan Zarate, the first Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

We can’t argue in the same breath that ‘snapback’ sanctions as constructed offer a real Sword of Damocles to be wielded over the heads of the Iranians for years while arguing that there is no way now for the United States to maintain the crippling financial and economic isolation which helped bring the Iranians to the table.

Every country and business would have to choose whether to do business with a nuclear Iran or the United States. Most countries and businesses would make the right choice.

Despite these options, the Administration negotiated a pact in which its red lines were abandoned, compromised, or diluted, while the Iranians held firm to their core principles.

The Iranians have secured the following if the agreement moves forward:

• broad sanctions relief,

• a U.N.-blessed domestic uranium enrichment capability,

• international acceptance of Iran as a nuclear threshold state,

• international acceptance of its indigenous ballistic missile program,

• lifting of the arms and ICBM embargos,

• repeal of all the previous U.N. Security Council Resolutions, and

• removal of the Iranian nuclear issue from the U.N. Security Council agenda.

Accordingly, I will cast my vote for the motion of disapproval. I believe Iran will bide its time, perfect its R&D on advanced centrifuges, secure an ICBM capability, and build a nuclear weapon as the JCPOA is phased out.

It is time for Congress to reject the JCPOA and for the Administration to negotiate a new agreement as has been done so many times in the past when the Senate raised serious concerns. The stakes are too high, the risks too great, to do otherwise.