Durbin: Support for Iran Nuclear Agreement Builds in Senate

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – As the Senate begins debate on the Iran Nuclear Agreement, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Assistant Democratic Leader, spoke on the Senate Floor today to discuss the deal to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran negotiated by the United States, our allies, and Iran earlier this year. Over the past seven weeks, Durbin has led the effort to build support for the deal in the Senate, convening meetings between Senators and nuclear experts, Administration officials, and ambassadors for the P5+1 countries, and speaking daily with his colleagues about the importance of the agreement. In his remarks today, Durbin announced that 41 out of 46 Democratic Senators have expressed their support of the Iran Nuclear Agreement so far.


“What the American people expect of us now is a debate befitting this great institution, the United States Senate. They expect us to come here and conscientiously consider this matter on its merits and express our points of view,” Durbin said. “What the President is trying to do is something that I believe should be the starting point in every critical foreign policy decision – use diplomacy, use negotiation, try to solve our problems in a thoughtful, diplomatic way. And if that fails, never rule out other possibilities. But start with diplomacy, and that’s what the President has done.”


In his speech on the Senate Floor, Durbin also highlighted the remarks of General Colin Powell, Secretary of State under Republican President George Bush, who announced his support of the Iran Nuclear Agreement earlier this week. “General Colin Powell, who serve our country in the military and as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then as Secretary of State, brings a perspective of to this which very few can. A man who  risked his life on the battlefield, a man who knows the true cost of war but a man who was empowered by another Republican president to lead us in diplomatic negotiations. This is the kind of clear-eyed approach that we need and want when it comes to an issue of this gravity.”


Audio of Durbin’s remarks is available here.


Footage of Durbin’s floor remarks is available for TV Stations using FTP in high definition here and in standard definition here.


The full text of Senator Durbin’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, is available below. Video of the full remarks is also available here.


Mr. President, for many years the US and others in the global community have worried about a nuclear armed Iran – and for good reason. 


Our intelligence community assesses that, until as recently as 2003, Iran was working toward a nuclear bomb.


Such a weapon in the hands of the Iranian regime would be an unacceptable risk to the region, to Israel, and to the world. 


The reckless war in Iraq further empowered Iran.  The country’s hardliners moved forward at great speed building suspicious nuclear infrastructure.  These efforts produced large and unsettling quantities of highly enriched uranium that could have been used for a nuclear weapon.     


This is the mess President Obama inherited when he came to office.  Yet, he pledged that Iran would not obtain a nuclear bomb on his watch.


With the current deal negotiated between the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran, he has delivered on that promise—something no previous president has been able to do. 


He has negotiated a comprehensive deal in which Iran pledges to the world not to build a nuclear bomb and agrees to stringent inspections and terms to ensure that Iran keeps that pledge. 


And this historic agreement was accomplished without drawing the United States into another war in the Middle East. 


I understand that any deal with Iran is open to suspicion.  Iran has a long history of destabilizing actions and outrageously offensive statements. 


Yet, what also troubles me is that some in this chamber – 47 Senators from the other side of the aisle – chose to undermine this effort even before it was concluded.


You see back in March – while negotiations where still underway and Iran was in full compliance with an interim agreement – 47 Republican Senators took an unprecedented and deeply troubling step.


They wrote to Iran’s hardliners trying to undermine any possible deal.


That’s right, while the executive branch of our government carried out negotiations with some of our key Western allies to halt Iran’s nuclear program, members of this body wrote directly to our adversaries in Iran opposing our own government here at home.


Ponder that for a moment.


Can anyone here imagine if 47 Democrats had written to Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai saying don’t negotiate with then President Nixon – or to Soviet President Gorbachev saying don’t negotiate with President Reagan?


What if 47 Senate Democrats had written to Saddam Hussein before George W. Bush launched his ill-conceived war? 


The howls of protest would have been deafening.


Yet, that is exactly what happened here – something for which the Senate Historian’s office has reportedly found no precedent.


So it should be no surprise that many of these same voices also rushed forward to reject the final agreement immediately after it was announced.


None of these naysayers had time to actually read the agreement before they rejected it outright.   


Tragically, this apparent knee-jerk reaction to oppose anything by this administration has not only hurt efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program, but also tragically eroded this chamber’s historically bipartisan approach toward foreign policy. 


Mr. President, before the recess I came to the floor to announce my strong support for the nuclear agreement reached between key world powers and Iran. 


I noted that strong countries negotiate with their adversaries and have done so for generations, regardless of who was in the White House at the time.  And agreements reached from talking with our enemies have had tremendous benefits to our national security.


The deal with Iran is no different.


Since then, more than 35 of my Senate colleagues have expressed their support for this agreement.


They have pointed out the obvious.


First, this agreement places unprecedented restrictions and inspections on Iran, making it near impossible that Iran will be able to build a nuclear bomb without being caught.


Iran will not be able to cheat and get away with it.


Second, the agreement includes an Iranian commitment to the world’s powers that it will never build a nuclear bomb.  This means that if Iran cheats, action against Iran would likely have strong international support. 


And last, rejecting this agreement would leave the current international sanctions regime in tatters, eroding and falling apart over time. 


Even worse, Iran could walk away, leaving it unconstrained to build a nuclear weapon.  The region and our allies would then be at an even greater risk to a nuclear-armed Iran. 


Quite simply, rejecting this deal puts the US and the region at greater at risk. 


So much of the debate on this agreement is on issues peripheral to the primary goal – blocking Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon.  This agreement is the best option to do that.


And let me be clear, nothing in this agreement prevents the US or our allies from taking military action later if Iran cheats.  Nor does this agreement prevent the US from countering other Iranian actions in the region. 


And while Iran will likely continue to support terrorist groups, it will do so without the possibility of a nuclear umbrella.


It’s probably no surprise that many former Israeli security and intelligence officials see this agreement as in Israel’s interest.  It’s not because they trust Iran, it’s because this agreement blocks Iran’s pathway to a bomb. 


In fact, dozens of former senior Israeli security leaders have come out in support of the deal, including two former heads of Israeli Security Agency Shin Bet. 


Perhaps some of you saw the PBS Newshour interview last month with former head of the Mossad Efraim Halevy.  He said in support of the agreement,


I believe this agreement closes the roads and blocks the road to Iranian nuclear military capabilities for at least a decade.  And I believe that the arrangements that have been agreed between the parties are such that give us a credible answer to the Iranian military threat, at least for a decade, if not longer.  Up to a couple of years ago, the Iranians refused to discuss their nuclear programs on the basis of a negotiation, international negotiations. They said that this was their sovereign right to do whatever they wished.  They have caved in. They have entered into a detailed discussion of their capabilities. They have agreed to an agreement which lists their various facilities in Iran. They have agreed to knocking out the first and foremost important element in it, their location in Arak, which is a plutogenic-producing facility in potential.


The core of this particular aspect is going to be destroyed.  And that means that there will be no capability of the Iranians to ultimately weaponize whatever they are doing for the purposes of attacking anybody around the world for the next decade. If only for that element alone, I would say this is an agreement worthwhile accepting.”


And when asked if he thought Iran would cheat, Halevy replied:


That is exactly the whole point of the agreement.  Whereas, when the United States negotiated with the Soviet Union, the code word which was used by President Reagan and Secretary Shultz was trust and verify, this time, it is mistrust and verify. There is going to be a verification system in place which is second to none and has no precedent.  And I believe that if the Iranians are going to try and cheat, there will be ways and means of finding this out. I think that the machinery which is going to be put in place, which, by the way, will be supported fully by the United States, without which this could not actually be implemented, will not be in place if the agreement is scuttled by Congress.”


And, of course, so many others outside of Congress from both sides of the aisle have come out in support of the deal, including former Senators Levin, Lugar, Nunn,Warner, Boren, Mitchell, and Kassenbaum.


Former National Security Advisor Scowcroft and former Secretaries of State Albright and Powell have expressed their views on the value of this deal.


And in recent weeks, more than 100 former US ambassadors…35 former generals and admirals…400 rabbis have written in support of the deal. 


Let me share a few key points from Senators Nunn and Lugar – two top nonproliferation experts and the former chairs of the Senate Committee on Armed Services and Senate Foreign Relations Committee respectively.  They note: 


At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear warheads aimed at American cities, and the Soviets were subject to numerous arms controls agreements. But progress was hard-fought and incremental at best. In an ideal world, the Soviet Union would have agreed to more severe constraints than those agreed by Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush, for example. It would have dismantled all of its nuclear weapons, stopped its human rights abuses and halted its meddling around the world.


But, as all of these presidents – Democratic and Republican – understood, holding out for the impossible is a recipe for no progress at all. Congress should take the same approach today to the Iran nuclear deal.”


And they continue,


Finally, and perhaps most importantly, members of Congress must think long and hard about the consequences if this agreement is turned down. There is no escaping the conclusion that there will inevitably be grave implications for U.S. security and for U.S. international leadership in the decades ahead. Sanctions allies will go their own way, reducing the effectiveness of our financial tools and leaving Iran in a stronger position across the board.  Any future effort by this president or the next to assemble a “sanctions coalition” relating to Iran or other security challenges will be weakened. U.S. leadership, diplomacy and credibility, including efforts to achieve support for possible military action against Iran, will all be severely damaged.”


Former Chairmen of the Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin and John Warner made the argument that if the US walks away from this deal and then later finds Iran pursuing a bomb, it will find it harder to work with allies on a military strike having previously undermined the diplomatic approach.


Specifically, they argue,


The deal on the table is a strong agreement on many counts, and it leaves in place the robust deterrence and credibility of a military option. We urge our former colleagues not to take any action which would undermine the deterrent value of a coalition that participates in and could support the use of a military option. The failure of the United States to join the agreement would have that effect.”


Wise words from wise men – Republican and Democratic alike.


Mr. President, There have been decades of mistrust between the US and Iran. 


I myself cannot forget what happened in 1979 when our embassy was seized and more than 60 Americans were held hostage for 444 days.  There were mock executions and other inhumane acts.  Anyone who is familiar with this story knows the pain these people and their families suffered.


And no one can forget the horrible threats made by some Iranian leaders against the Israeli people or denials of the Holocaust.


Israel has genuine security concerns about Iran.  So do I. 


But at the end of the day, I believe this agreement is the best way to take one of those concerns – an Iranian nuclear bomb – off the table. 


It won’t change Iranian behavior overnight.  But in the long term, it also has the potential to empower the Iranian moderates – those who want a more open and internationally respected country.


Let’s not forget, Iran has one of the most pro-Western secular populations in the region – one hungry for greater connection to the world.  Iran’s leaders know this – and that is no doubt why Iranian hardliners are so opposed to this deal.


It is also important to remember that this is an agreement negotiated in partnership by the US and other key global powers – Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China.  


And in a meeting last month in the Middle East, the Gulf Cooperation Council also strongly supported the deal - Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.


In total, more than 100 countries have publicly supported this agreement. 


So at the end of the day, we should follow the words of President Kennedy – “Let us never negotiate out of fear.  But let us never fear to negotiate.” 

Mr. President, I believe that is exactly what President Obama and the world powers have accomplished with this unprecedented agreement.

It’s time for us to show the same courageous leadership here in the Senate.