THE BLOG

Don't Risk Peaceful Elimination of Iran's Nuclear Weapons Capabilities by Imposing New Sanctions

12/11/2013 05:56 pm ET | Updated Feb 10, 2014

Today I spoke on the Senate floor about preventing Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapon. Below is full text of the speech. Video is available on my YouTube channel.

Mr. President, I want to speak about an issue of great importance to the national security of the United States and our allies -- preventing Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapon. There is no doubt in my mind that we will do that.

The question is how -- not whether -- we prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. For the first time in years, there is a real opportunity to verifiably eliminate Iran's nuclear weapons capability through tough negotiations rather than by acts of war.

The initial interim agreement between the P5+1 and Iran is an encouraging first step, and I urge my colleagues not to put it at risk by passing new sanctions right now. Instead, we should simply state the obvious: If Iran reneges or plays games, we will quickly pass new sanctions the very moment the need arises.

To me, this is a very clear-cut case, and I frankly do not understand why more of us senators are not saying so.

There is still a long way to go, but this diplomatic opportunity is real. Why? Because Iran wants -- and needs -- to find a way out of the financial isolation that our crippling sanctions have inflicted on its government and businesses.

Iran's people elected a president who proposed a different path. Ayatollah Khameini, Iran's Supreme Leader, has given President Rouhani some flexibility to try to find an agreement. And they agreed to this initial deal. This is not a coincidence.

The immense power of U.S.-led global financial sanctions has created the opportunity to resolve this issue diplomatically -- with verifiable agreements and skeptical inspectors, rather than with bombs or boots on the ground.

I have spent much of my tenure on the Intelligence Committee working with the DNI, the CIA, the NSA, the FBI, and the Treasury Department to build our tools to exploit and freeze the international web of financial networks that enable terrorist and proliferation programs - particularly Iran's nuclear programs. I have staunchly supported the powerful multilateral sanctions regime that is currently suffocating the Iranian economy and that forced the current Iranian regime to the negotiating table.

This initial agreement is the first concrete result of those sanctions.

It stops progress on Iran's nuclear program. It neutralizes Iran's most dangerous stockpile of nuclear material -- 20 percent enriched uranium -- and it establishes strong monitoring mechanisms that enable inspectors to verify that Iran is in compliance with its commitments.

This first step maintains the powerful sanctions regime that has forced Iran to the table. The very small amount of targeted and reversible financial relief that it provides -- roughly $7 billion out of the $100 billion in sanctions that the agreement leaves fully in place -- only underscores the grip that we and our allies have on Iran's financial position. That grip will not loosen during the during the six-month agreement.

We will continue to control and limit Iran's access to money during the six-month agreement. If Iran reneges on the terms of the interim deal, Iran will not even get all of the small relief that we have agreed to.

And over the next six months, the small amount of financial relief that Iran can gain in the deal will be dwarfed by the amount of lost oil revenue that our continuing sanctions will deny Iran. Iran will be in worse shape financially six months from now. The pressure does not relent.

That is why Iran needs to complete a final comprehensive agreement to eliminate its nuclear weapons capability -- because this interim agreement doesn't give Iran what it needs to escape financial ruin.

I appreciate the concerns of colleagues who want more now, but we must give this opportunity a chance. However you see this first step, the fact is that today Iran is further from a nuclear weapon than it would have been without this deal. And we have accomplished this first step through diplomatic strength, without a shot fired. We can all support that.

We all want to put pressure on Iran to comply with the commitments that it has made to this interim agreement, and to agree to a long-term comprehensive deal that will prevent it from ever developing a weapon. But colleagues, that pressure already exists.

If Iran reneges on the commitments that it has made in this interim agreement, or balks at a final deal that verifiably ends its nuclear weapon capabilities, then there is absolutely no doubt that we in the U.S. Congress will impose new and ever more powerful sanctions on Iran.

Given the indisputable credibility of that threat, I urge my colleagues to consider how unnecessary and risky it would be to preemptively introduce new sanctions right now. New sanctions now could be criticized as a violation of the interim agreement. Such a move could separate us from our negotiating partners in the P5+1, and it could further complicate the already difficult negotiations of a final agreement.

I know some senators doubt these risks. But I ask my colleagues this:

If there is any chance at all that new sanctions right now might disrupt that agreement, or jeopardize a future agreement -- why on earth would we risk it?

Why would we risk an opportunity that may well be the only chance we have to resolve this without using military force?

If we lose this diplomatic opportunity, then the use of force will be the only option to stop Iran's path to a nuclear bomb.

All of us have lived with war for the past 12 years. We have seen up close the incalculable financial and human cost that has come with these wars, and the burden that the wars now put on our troops, their families, and our economy.

This has only hardened my resolve to ensure that this immense sacrifice never happens unnecessarily -- that we take great care to exhaust every possible avenue to diplomatic resolution.

Colleagues, we have now an opportunity to eliminate Iran's nuclear weapons capabilities peacefully. Let us not risk it.

I yield the floor.