Madam President, one, I would like to compliment Senator Burr for trying to find a way to improve veterans health care. I think the comment he made is pretty accurate. Before you expand a system that is clearly broken, it looks to me like you would want to fix it.
There is a bipartisan view that it is broken. A lot of solutions have bipartisan support. But we are where we are. I know Senator Sanders is very genuine about wanting to expand veterans' benefits. I certainly understand where Senator Burr is coming from. We want to, one, pay for whatever we do, because we are $17 trillion in debt. But, two, we have to look at the broken system. If you include another 14 million veterans, people who are not service connected and make them overnight eligible for VA health care that is in short supply, you will frustrate the ones who need it the most and take a weak system and completely break it. It seems to me that is not helping veterans at all.
But part of the package that Senator Burr has authored also deals with another problem of great and immediate concern: imposing sanctions on the Iranian nuclear program if the negotiations fail to deliver the desired result.
This is an unfortunate moment for me. Senators MENENDEZ and KIRK have been a team for a long time working to impose sanctions on the Iranian government as they march toward a nuclear weapon. We have imposed 16 rounds of sanctions since 1987; 9 U.N. Security Council resolutions since 2006, demanding the full and sustained suspension of all uranium enrichment related and reprocessing activities and its full cooperation with the IAEA.
This body has been bipartisan when it comes to the Iranian nuclear program and our support for Israel. Senator Menendez has been one of the leading voices in the entire Congress. He deserves lots of credit. He is my friend. We have a new round of sanctions that are bipartisan. We have 17 Democratic cosponsors. We have all but two Republicans. So we have 59 cosponsors that would allow sanctions to be available and in place if we do not reach a final deal in this round of negotiations in the P5+1.
Why is it important that the Congress reimpose sanctions through new legislation if there is failure? No. 1, the sanctions are designed to get the end game right. I believe that the only successful outcome through negotiations would be to dismantle the plutonium-producing reactor. The Iranians do not need a plutonium-producing reactor for a civilian nuclear power program to comply with the U.N. resolution that requires the removal of all highly enriched uranium. A lot of highly enriched uranium is now in the hands of the Iranian government. The U.N., of all bodies, has asked for it to be removed and turned over to the international community.
I worry that if you leave this highly enriched uranium in place in Iran, we will live to regret it. A dirty bomb becomes a real possibility. The other aspect of a final deal that has to be accomplished, in my view, is that the Iranian regime should be out of the enrichment business.
There are 15 nations that have nuclear power programs that do not enrich uranium. Mexico and Canada are two of those nations. We are objecting to the South Koreans who want to go into the enrichment business. I do not mind South Korea having a nuclear power program, but we really have to watch the spread of nuclear proliferation through the enrichment of uranium.
It is imminently possible to have a nuclear power program and have the fuel cycle controlled. You do not need to enrich to have commercial nuclear power. If you were going to make a list of countries that are unreliable and dangerous, and you would not want to give the right to enrich, I think Iran would be at the top. Just look at how this regime has behaved over the last 30 years. I do not have to time to go into all of the ``list of horribles,'' but our resolutions regarding the Iranian nuclear program list them very well.
So we are at an impasse now. The Republican position is that we should have a new sanctions vote on the bipartisan sanctions bill now while the negotiations are going on to reinforce to the international community that we are very serious about pressure being applied to the Iranians until we get the deal that we all can live with. I think it is fair to say that the Iranians would not be in negotiations without crippling sanctions.
I want to give credit to the Obama administration for implementing a sanctions regime that really did cripple the Iranian economy, and it has gotten them to the table. Unfortunately, the interim deal has absolutely undercut all of our gains. I will give you some details as to why all we have accomplished has been undercut and the sanctions regime that got the Iranians to the table is crumbling before our eyes.
Here is what our allies in Israel say. The prime minister of Israel said: ``Iran got the deal of the century, the international community got a bad deal.'' I think he is absolutely right. Under the interim deal, not 1 ounce of highly enriched uranium is required to be taken out of Iran. Some of it would be chemically altered, and you can reverse that chemical process so that it could be processed for weapons use later down the road.
Not one centrifuge has been destroyed. Of the 16,000 to 18,000 centrifuges, not one has been destroyed. The plutonium-producing reactor is not being dismantled. It has been mothballed, for lack of a better word. I am not so sure it is even in a mothball status.
So the prime minister of Israel says: ``Iran got the deal of the century, the international community got a bad deal.'' Again, I would agree. Nothing has been accomplished in the interim deal. The interim deal is so far away from a final deal, I do not see how you get there.
We have to dismantle the plutonium reactor completely, not just stop its construction or delay its construction. We should remove all of the highly enriched uranium out of the hands of the ayatollahs because it is too dangerous to leave it there. The U.N. agrees with that. That is the end position. They should not be allowed to enrich. If the Iranians want a peaceful nuclear power program, I will be the first to say: That is fine. Build a reactor in Iran. Build a couple of reactors if you like. Have the Russians help the Iranians construct their reactor, as long as the international community can control the fuel cycle.
There is no need to enrich in Iran for a peaceful nuclear power program. We would be crazy as a nation and a world to give this regime the right to enrich uranium and have a breakout, to go from low-level enrichment to 90 percent, to make a nuclear weapon. I think that is what they are trying to do. I would like every Senator to be able to answer a question from their constituents about this issue. Do you believe the Iranians have been trying to build a nuclear bomb rather than a nuclear power program?
It is clear to me they have been trying to build a nuclear bomb for a very long time. They get right up to the edge. They have one of the most sophisticated enrichment programs in the world. I do not think it is designed to produce peaceful nuclear power.
Here is what the head of Iran's nuclear agency said last night:
The iceberg of sanctions is melting while our centrifuges are also still working. This is our greatest achievement.
He is right. I mean, what more can I say? The head of the Iranian nuclear agency, said on Iranian state television:
The iceberg of sanctions is melting while our centrifuges are also still working. This is our greatest achievement.
This is what the foreign minister said:
The White House tries to portray it as basically a dismantling of Iranian's nuclear program.
The interim deal--
We are not dismantling any centrifuges, we're not dismantling any equipment, we're simply not producing, not enriching over 5 percent.
They are telling us and the world, with this interim deal, they are not dismantling a damn thing.
President Rouhani, the new moderate--if you believe that, I have some property I want to sell you--said on CNN: ``So there will be no destruction of centrifuges--of existing centrifuges?'' President Rouhani said: ``No. No, not at all.''
Well, if you believe, as I do, they should be out of the enrichment business, then all the centrifuges should be dismantled and destroyed. Because to allow this regime to continue to enrich is dangerous and, quite frankly, will lead to a military conflict between Israel and Iran and maybe others.
President Rouhani tweeted:
Our relationship with the world is based on Iranian nation's interest. In Geneva agreement, world powers surrendered to Iran's national will.
Well, maybe that is bluster. When you look at the evidence, it's not so much bluster. The Deputy Foreign Minister said of the interconnections between networks of centrifuges that have been used to enrich uranium to 20 percent, so that they can enrich only to 5 percent:
These interconnections can be removed in a day and connected again in a day.
So he is basically saying all we have done is basically pull the plug and we will just put it back in if we need to.
Here is what has happened since the interim deal with the sanctions regime. President Rouhani declared:
We have struck the first blow to the illegal sanctions, in the fields of insurance, shipping, the banking system, foodstuffs and medicine and exports of petrochemical materials.
You are witness to how foreign firms are visiting our country; 117 political delegations have come here.
France, Turkey, Georgia, Ireland, Tunisia, Kazakhstan, China, Italy, India, Austria, and Sweden. The French chamber of commerce led a delegation to Iran not long ago with the head of Michelin Tire Company. I have been talking to the Michelin Company. They are not going to violate the sanctions, but they do believe that after this interim deal the smart money is that the sanctions are behind us.
The International Monetary Fund predicted Iran's economy could turn around due to the interim agreement. Listen to this:
The economy in Iran that was crippled because of the sanctions could turn around based on the interim agreement that doesn't dismantle or remove anything. Prospects for 2014 and 2015 have improved with an interim P5+1 agreement. Real GDP growing by 1 to 2 percent in 2014-2015. Inflation would potentially climb 15 to 20 percent. India's oil imports from Iran more than doubled in January from a month earlier. China has emerged as Iran's top trading partner, with nonoil trade hitting $13 billion over the last 10 months. U.S. aerospace companies are seeking permission to sell airline parts to Iran for the first time in three decades. Iran has signed a deal to sell Iraq arms and ammunition worth $195 million, according to documents seen by Reuters. At least 13 major international companies have said in recent weeks they aim to reenter the Iranian marketplace over the next several months.
These sanctions, my friends on the other side, are crumbling. If we do not reset what is going on, the leverage we have gained is being lost. We are marching toward a disaster. Having a new round of sanctions passed by Congress would tell the international community from our point of view this is not behind us, we are not going to take the pressure off until we get a result that makes our country and our allies in the region safe, particularly Israel. If we do not act now, it will be too late.
To our friends at the White House: When you threaten to veto legislation and you accuse people who want to impose sanctions if the deal fails as wanting to going to war, I am afraid you completely misunderstand the situation as it really exists. I am willing to give you credit for imposing the sanctions in a forceful way, but you are naive and dangerous in your thought process if you think we can now negotiate with the sanctions crumbling and get the right answer.
The Iranian monetary unit, the rial, has appreciated by over 25 percent. The Iranian economy is rebounding after the interim deal. They are back in business. Inflation is down, the value of their currency is up, people are lining up to do business in Iran, the sanctions are crumbling, and the U.S. Senate sits quiet.
All I can say is that we have a chance to turn this around before it is too late. I believe the best thing we could do as a body is for Republicans and Democrats to pass a new round of sanctions that would only take place at the end of the 6-month period if a final deal is not achieved that results in the things I have outlined.
The bipartisan sanction bill reinforces the end game of basically dismantling the ability of the Iranians to develop a nuclear weapon. We have specific language in the sanctions bill that would get us to a good outcome. I am afraid by the time the 6 months is up, the economy in Iran will have rebounded and the will of the international community to go through this process again will have been lost.
Right now the smart money is that Iran is a place you can soon do business, the sanctions are history, and our European allies, I am afraid, will accept a deal with the Iranians that is not in our national interest and will certainly not be good for our allies.
I am very worried the P5+1 has already conceded in their own mind some enrichment capability in the hands of the Iranian regime for the purpose of face saving, supposedly. We should not worry about allowing the Iranians to save face, given what they have done to our soldiers in Iraq, the amount of terrorism they have spread throughout the world, and the way they have behaved. I am not in the face-saving business when it comes to Iran. I am in protecting America's national security interest business.
I do not mind the Iranians having a nuclear power program for peaceful purposes, as long as you control the fuel cycle. But if they want more than that, that tells you all you need to know about what their ambitions are.
I say to my colleagues on the other side: If you allow any enrichment capability left in the hands of the Shia Persians in Iran, the Sunni Arabs are going to insist on a like capability. And I am here to tell you if you want to turn the Mideast into the ultimate powder keg, allow the Iranians to have an enrichment program. Because every Sunni Arab nation that can afford one will want a like program. If you think you can allow the Iranians to enrich uranium and the Sunni Arabs will sit on the sidelines and do nothing, you don't understand the Mideast. If you want to set the world on the road to Armageddon, that will be the end of nonproliferation in the Mideast. The interim deal is a bad deal for the world, according to the Prime Minister, and a great deal for Iran. The Prime Minister of Israel is right.
If this administration is contemplating a final agreement that does not remove all the highly enriched uranium in Iran, consistent with the U.N. resolution, it is making a mistake for the ages. If this administration is going to sign on to a deal that allows enrichment to continue in Iran, where they now have a class of centrifuges that can take less than 5 percent uranium and spin it up to 90 percent, that will be a mistake for the ages.
This is North Korea in the making. But unlike North Korea, where they eventually went nuclear after the international community, through inspections and sanctions, tried to stop their program, Japan and South Korea have yet to feel the need to obtain a nuclear weapon to counter the North Koreans. I can assure you the Sunni Arab nations in the Mideast will not put themselves in that position. All you have to do is ask them.
I challenge every Member of this body to get on the phone and call the major Sunni Arab states and ask them a simple question: If the Iranians are allowed to enrich, will you insist on the same right? See what they tell you.
We have a chance here, if we are smart, to reset the table before these sanctions completely crumble, and they are. If you think you can wait 6 months, have them completely crumble and reimpose sanctions, you are kidding yourself, because the world is not going to go down that road.
What will happen if this negotiation with Iran fails to deliver what I think is the right outcome--a peaceful nuclear power program without any capability to make a nuclear weapon--I think the people throughout the region are going to respond forcefully and in kind and our friends in Israel and the world are hurt.
Can Israel tolerate the ayatollahs in Iran having the ability to develop a nuclear weapon and the only thing between the State of Israel's security is a bunch of U.N. inspectors? Now think about that. Would you put America's national security at risk, and the only thing between a hostile nation having a nuclear weapon and threatening to wipe us off the map and success is a bunch of U.N. inspectors? How well did that work in North Korea? That is not a viable outcome.
We have to stop this program completely. It must be dismantled, not mothballed. It has to be dismantled. If the Iranians want a nuclear powerplant for peaceful purposes, they can have one as long as somebody responsible controls the fuel cycle.
We are headed toward a disaster if we don't act pretty quickly. I don't mean to be so dire, but look at the Mideast. Look at the Syrian effort to contain the Syrian chemical weapons program. These thuggish regimes are not going to turn over the advantages they have until the regime itself is threatened. I believe the Iranians, after Syria, do not believe anymore that our country has the will to use military force as a last resort to stop their nuclear program. No matter what President Obama says, his actions speak far louder than his words. We could change things if the Congress would impose new sanctions, bipartisan in nature. It would actually allow the administration some leverage they do not have today.
The reason for the bipartisan bill, as in the Burr alternative to the Sanders bill, is that many of us believe now that time is not on our side. And to my friends on the other side, I hate the fact we have now split on what to do about Iran and how to impose sanctions. I have enjoyed, as much as anything in my entire time in the Senate, working with my Democratic and Republican colleagues to craft policies designed to get the right answer when it comes to the Iranian nuclear threat. But we are now in a different spot.
As much as I hate it, I feel compelled, from my point of view, to use every opportunity this body presents to bring up the issue. If you do not believe the sanctions are crumbling, I would love to hear your explanation as to why they are still working, given the information that is overwhelming.
So I hope in the coming days we can regain that bipartisanship. The majority leader, several months ago, promised a vote on Iran sanctions if we could find a bipartisan bill. He made that promise, and I will quote that later in the week. What has happened between then and now is the President has weighed in. He has tried to lock his party down and he has threatened to veto this sanctions bill.
Now is not the time to turn the Senate over to the Obama administration, which does not have a very good track record when it comes to policing the Mideast. Actually, we are helping them, whether they believe it or not. The last thing I want is a conflict anywhere in the world that can be avoided, but here are our choices: If the negotiations fail, Israel will not stand for a nuclear-capable Iran. If you attack Iran, you open Pandora's box and many bad things can happen.
I can tell you this, if there is a war between us and Iran, they lose, we win. This is not much of a debate militarily. But it is always a terrible thing to go to war unless you absolutely have to. So if the Iranians believe we are serious about sanctions and we are serious about using military force as a last resort, we may actually still get the right answer.
If they don't believe that, we are putting Israel and our allies in a terrible spot. If the Iranian program survives these negotiations and they march toward a nuclear weapon as the North Koreans did, if the U.N. inspections fail and they achieve their goal of a nuclear weapon, then we have emptied Pandora's box, because every Sunni Arab state will follow in kind. Then only God knows what happens next. We have a chance to avoid that.
But Israel will never stand for the proposition that the only thing between the ayatollahs having a nuclear weapon and the State of Israel's survival is a bunch of U.N. inspectors trying to control a program with a live capability; and Sunni Arab states will not allow the Iranians to enrich without them claiming an equal right. All this can be avoided if we act decisively. But if we continue to wait and allow the sanctions to crumble, God help us all.