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Moving Ahead For Progress In the 21st Century Act -- Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. KERRY. Thank you, Mr. President.


Mr. President, several of us in the Senate have run for the office of President of the United States. Two of us have been our party's nominees, and dozens of others have played major roles in tough campaigns. So none of us in the Senate are strangers to the rough and tumble of American politics. I think we all understand on a personal level what the humorist said at the turn of the century when he wrote: ``Politics ain't beanbag.'' One has to have a thick skin and a strong backbone to survive in this business. One has to be able to take a punch and deliver one, and we all understand that.

So it is not as an innocent that I come to the floor today to say that I was troubled--deeply troubled--to read an op-ed in this morning's Washington Post by the likely Republican nominee for President Mitt Romney. It was an attack on the administration's Iran policy, and it was as inaccurate as it was aggressive.

Every candidate for the Oval Office has the right to criticize the President. But, particularly this week, while Prime Minister Netanyahu is in Washington meeting with the administration to determine the road forward that might mean the difference between war or a diplomatic solution--particularly at that moment when so much is on the line, we all ought to remember that the nuclear issue with Iran is deadly serious business, and it ought to invite sobriety and serious-minded solutions, not sloganeering and fiction and sound bites.

I don't think we should allow Iran to become another party's applause line on the Presidential stump. Talk has consequences, particularly when it is talk about war, and talk of war only helps Iran and others at this moment, by increasing the price of Iranian crude oil that pays for its nuclear program. To create false differences with the President just to score political points does nothing to move Iran off a dangerous nuclear course. Worst of all, Governor Romney's op-ed does not even do readers the courtesy of describing how a President Romney would, in fact, do anything different from what President Obama and this administration has already done. So if we are going to disagree, let's at least disagree responsibly--and honestly.

So examine the op-ed I am talking about. From the very opening paragraphs, Mr. Romney garbles history. Going back to the Iranian revolution, he calls President Carter ``feckless,'' saying he did nothing for over a year while Iranian revolutionaries held Americans captive. In fact, it was the months of President Carter's negotiations, leading up to an all-night session of negotiation--the very night before the inauguration of President Reagan on January 20--that actually freed the hostages.

I bring up the hostage crisis for another reason, because when those helicopters went down in the desert during the failed rescue attempt in 1980, the United States not only lost the opportunity to get our people back sooner but President Carter fundamentally lost any chance he had at reelection. Notwithstanding that reality, notwithstanding the lesson of Desert One and those helicopters that crashed and the failed mission--notwithstanding that--President Obama, whom Governor Romney calls ``the most feckless President since Carter,'' threw that lesson out the window, knowing if he attempted to go into Pakistan and failed he would probably lose his chance at reelection--notwithstanding that, he authorized the gutsy and dangerous raid in Pakistan that finally killed Osama bin Laden.

Despite everything that could have gone wrong with that raid, the mission was ordered with confidence, executed with courage, and the man who plotted the September 11 attacks was finally held accountable for the murder of thousands of

Americans. George W. Bush may have said, ``Wanted: Dead or Alive,'' but it was President Obama who delivered.

I don't know if Governor Romney has checked the definition of the word ``feckless'' lately, but that raid ain't it.

The rest of Romney's argument doesn't get any better. In fact, he goes on to propose action after action that President Obama has already taken. Just look at the analysis. Let me read the first sentences from an article in today's New York Times:

To rein in Tehran's nuclear ambitions, Mitt Romney says he would conduct naval exercises in the Persian Gulf. ..... He would try to ratchet up Security Council sanctions on Iran, targeting its Revolutionary Guards, and the country's central bank and other financial institutions. And if Russia and China do not go along, he says, the United States should team up with other willing governments to put such punitive measures in place. As it turns out--

And this is part of the quote--

As it turns out, that amounts to what President Obama is doing.

Ambassador Nick Burns, President Bush's lead negotiator on Iran, said:

The attacks on Obama basically say, ``He's weak and we're strong.'' But when you look at the specifics, you don't see any difference.

That is a quote.

So let's go point by point through the Romney plan. He writes he would proceed with missile defenses to protect Iran. He ignores the fact that one of the very first things the Obama administration did was to issue its plans for the phased adaptive approach--so that we would be able to sooner protect our friends and allies against the Iranian missile threat and to provide increasing levels of capability as the technology advances. During the debate over the New START treaty, the Senate heard in great detail--including from the Commander of the Strategic Command and the Director of the Missile Defense Agency--how that particular system was going to work and how the administration planned to proceed with it. In fact, the President sent the Senate a letter affirming his commitment to missile defense, and over the past year he has stuck by that promise.

So then Romney goes on to say that President Obama doesn't understand the seriousness of the threat from nuclear terrorism. Again, just look at the record: For the first time, the President set as a national goal securing all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within 4 years. He won international endorsement of that effort at the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit.

Last year alone, the Department of Energy removed or eliminated over 250 kilograms of highly enriched uranium from places such as Ukraine, Belarus, Serbia, and Kazakhstan. In the budget request before Congress, the administration plans to eliminate highly enriched uranium from nine countries, including Vietnam, Ukraine, and Mexico.

That is clearly an administration and leader who understands the danger of nuclear material, far more than any effort previously.

Then Romney lays out the single greatest willful avoidance of facts in his article. He calls for ever-tightening sanctions on Iran.

I don't know what he thinks has been going on around here for the last few years, but when President Obama took office Iran was in the ascendancy. As the Vice President used to say when he chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: Freedom wasn't on the march; Iran was on the march. Its reach through proxies such as Hezbollah threatened the United States, its allies, and the region, and particularly, obviously, Israel.

The international community was divided; diplomacy--both multilateral and bilateral--was stalled. But in June 2010, with a decisive push from President Obama, the United Nations put in place the most comprehensive and biting international sanctions the Iranian Government has ever faced--imposing restrictions on Iran's nuclear activities, ballistic missile program, conventional military exports to Iran, Iranian banks and financial transactions, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

What is more, in coordination with allies such as the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Canada, and others, the Obama administration put in place additional measures, ratcheting up pressure on the country's petrochemical industry, oil and gas industry, and financial sector. Recently, Europe announced the ban of oil imports from Iran, which will further pressure Iran's economy, and that has come with significant leadership effort and diplomacy by Secretary Clinton and by the administration and Secretary Geithner.

That is just on the multilateral front. President Obama also worked closely with Congress to pass the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Investment Act, which strengthened existing U.S. sanctions. He made it harder for the Iranian Government to buy refined petroleum and to modernize its oil and gas sector. Recently, we imposed tough new sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran. So one doesn't have to take my word for it.

Let me quote Iran's President Ahmadinejad, who is the one feeling the pressure. Here is what he said last fall: ``Our banks cannot make international transactions anymore.''

Today, all of these sanctions are beginning to bite. Iran is now virtually cut off from large parts of the international financial system.

Almost $60 billion in energy-related projects in Iran have been put on hold or discontinued. Iran is starting to lose oil sales to key customers in Europe and Asia. All you have to do is look at the front page of today's newspapers and read the stories of Iran hastily running around and looking for additional people to buy their oil. In fact, they have lost customers in Asia. Those losses could reach up to 40 percent of its daily sales, according to the International Energy Agency.

Banking sanctions have prevented several of Iran's customers from paying for its petroleum products, leaving the Central Bank short of hard currency and driving down the unofficial foreign exchange rate by 40 percent in a single month.

Mr. Romney needs to understand what is going on if he wants to run for President. Just yesterday the deputy chief of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps was quoted as saying, ``The regime is at the height of isolation.'' This is the Revolutionary Guard speaking:

The regime is at the height of isolation and in the midst of a technological, scientific and economic siege. We are not in a situation of imaginary threats and sanctions. Threats and sanctions against us are effectively being pursued.

Iran is also divided internally and isolated diplomatically like never before. Iran's most important ally, Syria, is facing regime collapse, which a former director of Israel's Mossad recently said could be a bigger strategic setback for Iran than a military strike against them. That came from the former director of Israel's Mossad.

To talk about Israel for a second, we all ought to remember that President Obama has provided record amounts of security funding to help Israel maintain its qualitative military edge. Prime Minister Netanyahu has spoken of President Obama's ironclad commitment to Israel's security. He said, ``Our security cooperation is unprecedented, and President Obama has backed those words with deeds.''

So when you add it all up, Mitt Romney evidently is trying to ignore, twist, and distort the administration's policy. For what purpose? For his own gain--simply to try to drive a wedge in American politics. It seems to be that the strategy of his campaign is to just say anything. It does not matter what it is based on--just say it. Put it out there whether or not it is true.

I might say that I think that is exactly what the American people are tired of and fed up with, what has turned them off of all of our politics, and what threatens the quality of our democracy in this great country of ours.

We should be crystal clear. Yes, we have to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That is not a question of containment and never has been; it is a question of prevention, outright denial of this ability. That is why President Obama again made that clear in his public comments yesterday, even as he builds pressure for a diplomatic solution.

I think it is appropriate to have a President who first seeks a diplomatic solution. I am one of those here in the Senate who, together with a few others of our generation, served in Vietnam--very few--and with one or two, I think, who served in World War II: Senator Inouye, Senator Lautenberg, maybe Senator Cochran. I don't recall if there are still more here. But the fact is that I think anybody who has served in a war first wants leaders who try to find if there is a way to make that war inevitable, if it has to happen, and at least turns over every stone possible to find out if diplomacy can find a solution to a problem.

President Obama has reiterated that all of the options are on the table. In its long history, Iran has had many amazing moments and has provided great accomplishments, culturally and in other ways, to its history and to all of us. This regime, many people believe, is something different and some hope might even become something different at some point in time, although it has a long way to go to evidence that. But President Obama has emphasized--in his approach, he has said, ``I don't bluff.'' I am convinced, as I think all of us are, that the President means exactly what he says, that Iran cannot have this weapon. I think you can ask Osama bin Laden what President Obama means when he says that he means what he says.

I know we are going to have tough debates going forward. That is appropriate. And we are going to have a bruising election season. That is OK if it is on the up-and-up, if it is really about real differences and real issues. And we ought to have those tough fights. That has proven to be how we decide the big issues in the United States. We always have. But let's have an honest debate, not a contrived one, not a phony set of propositions that have nothing to do with the reality of the situation. The American people deserve more than that.

Governor Romney can debate the man in the White House instead of inventing straw men on the op-ed pages of our newspapers. He ought to be armed with facts instead of empty rhetoric.

If we are going to succeed, as the American people want us to do in order to avoid a war in Iran, then at some point all of us have to act like statesmen, not candidates. We need to be clear-eyed about what we have accomplished and what we have yet to do. That is precisely what Americans expect from their Commander in Chief, and that is exactly what Americans deserve--no less.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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