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Top Democrats Schumer, Engel, Join Opposition to Iran Nuclear Deal

Top Democrats Sen. Chuck Schumer (D – N.Y.) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D – N.Y.) announced yesterday evening their opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Schumer is one of the senior Democrats in the Senate and is slated to become party leader following the retirement of current leader Harry Reid (D – Nev.) in 2016. Engel is the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Schumer released a statement yesterday arguing that when the deal as a whole is considered, “when it comes to the nuclear aspects after ten years and the non-nuclear aspects, we would be better off without it.” Schumer particularly objected to the sunset clause in the deal, which would allow Iran to build a “robust” nuclear infrastructure after ten years.

Supporters argue that after ten years, a future President would be in no weaker a position than we are today to prevent Iran from racing to the bomb. That argument discounts the current sanctions regime. After fifteen years of relief from sanctions, Iran would be stronger financially and better able to advance a robust nuclear program. Even more importantly, the agreement would allow Iran, after ten to fifteen years, to be a nuclear threshold state with the blessing of the world community. Iran would have a green light to be as close, if not closer to possessing a nuclear weapon than it is today. And the ability to thwart Iran if it is intent on becoming a nuclear power would have less moral and economic force.

Schumer also emphasized his concern regarding non-nuclear elements of the deal, including the lifting of sanctions and restrictions on Iran to import conventional weapons after five years and ballistic missiles after eight years.

In addition, we must consider the non-nuclear elements of the agreement. This aspect of the deal gives me the most pause. For years, Iran has used military force and terrorism to expand its influence in the Middle East, actively supporting military or terrorist actions in Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, and Gaza. That is why the U.S. has labeled Iran as one of only three nations in the world who are “state sponsors of terrorism.” Under this agreement, Iran would receive at least $50 billion dollars in the near future and would undoubtedly use some of that money to redouble its efforts to create even more trouble in the Middle East, and, perhaps, beyond. …

Finally, the hardliners can use the freed-up funds to build an ICBM on their own as soon as sanctions are lifted (and then augment their ICBM capabilities in 8 years after the ban on importing ballistic weaponry is lifted), threatening the United States. Restrictions should have been put in place limiting how Iran could use its new resources.

Schumer further expressed his belief that Iran would not moderate its behavior over the course of the deal, noting, “if one feels that Iranian leaders will not moderate and their unstated but very real goal is to get relief from the onerous sanctions, while still retaining their nuclear ambitions and their ability to increase belligerent activities in the Middle East and elsewhere, then one should conclude that it would be better not to approve this agreement.”

Schumer concluded the statement by announcing that he will vote against the agreement with the hope that stronger diplomacy will bring about a better deal.

The New York Times reported that Schumer’s announced opposition to the deal endangers the Democratic “firewall” that the administration and its allies have been trying to build in Congress. According to the Times, Schumer’s decision will make it more difficult for Democrats to have enough votes to sustain a filibuster and keep the deal from coming to a vote or to override the promised presidential veto.

Engel’s opposition was reported in Roll Call.

At the outset, I was troubled that Iran was not asked to stop enriching despite the fact that there were several separate UN Security Council resolutions compelling them to do so. I have raised questions and concerns throughout the negotiating phase and review period. The answers I’ve received simply don’t convince me that this deal will keep a nuclear weapon out of Iran’s hands, and may in fact strengthen Iran’s position as a destabilizing and destructive influence across the Middle East.

“First, I don’t believe that this deal gives international inspectors adequate access to undeclared sites. I’m especially troubled by reports about how the Iranian military base at Parchin will be inspected. With these potential roadblocks, IAEA inspectors may be unable to finish their investigation into the potential military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. While it may not be essential for Iran to provide a full mea culpa of its past activities, the access levels that Iran grants to the IAEA are indeed critical to our understanding of Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon. If the IAEA is dissatisfied by December 15th, the JCPOA does not clearly provide for a delay of sanctions relief.

“I also view as a dangerous concession the sunset of the international sanctions on advanced conventional weapons and ballistic missiles. I was told that these issues weren’t on the table during the talks. So it’s unacceptable to me that after a maximum of five and eight years, respectively, the deal lifts these restrictions. Worse, if Iran were to repeat past behavior and violate the arms embargo or restrictions on its ballistic missile program, such an action wouldn’t violate the JCPOA and wouldn’t be subject to snapback sanctions.

Engel expressed concern that sanctions relief will serve to exacerbate Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the Middle East, observing that “[w]e can have no doubt about the malevolent intent of a country’s leaders who chant ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel’ just days after concluding a deal.”

Earlier in the week, three top Democrats in the House of Representatives – Steve Israel (D – N.Y.), Nita Lowey (D – N.Y.), and Ted Deutch (D – Fla.) – all announced their opposition to the nuclear agreement. Previously, House Democrats Juan Vargas (D – Calif.), Grace Meng (D – N.Y.), Albio Sires (D – N.J.), and Kathleen Rice (D – N.Y.) had come out against the deal.

[Photo: VICE / YouTube ]