Durbin Supports Agreement to Prevent a Nuclear-Armed Iran

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Assistant Democratic Leader, today announced his support for the Iran Nuclear Agreement recently concluded by the United States, our allies, and Iran.


We know the cost of war,” said Durbin. “We know it in human lives. We know it in the casualties that return. We know it in the cost to the American people. Given a choice between the invasion of Iran or working in a diplomatic fashion toward a negotiation so that we can lessen this threat to the world, I think President Obama made the right choice. I support this Administration’s decision to go forward with this agreement. I’ll be adding my vote to many in the Senate in the hope that we can see a new day dawning. In the hope, too, that like President Nixon, like President Reagan, and like other presidents before us who have sat down to negotiate with our enemies, at the end of the day we’ll be a safer and stronger nation because of it.”


Video of Durbin’s remarks is available here.


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.


Full text of Senator Durbin’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:


Mr. President, I rise today in strong support of the nuclear agreement reached with Iran.


I took last week to read the 100 plus pages of this agreement and talk further to our nation’s top experts and am convinced it marks an historic opportunity to once and for all prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon – something no administration or congress has yet to accomplish.


I am under no illusions about the Iranian regime – its support for terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, its abysmal human rights record, and its brutal suppression of its own people during the 2009 election. 


Iran also continues to hold a number of Americans on outrageous charges, including Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, and Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian.


In fact, in 2007, I joined then-Senator Gordon Smith in introducing the Iran Counter Proliferation Act -- key components of which became the basis for the strict petroleum sanctions regime that helped bring Iran to the negotiating table.


I have voted for all key sanctions bills since then and have been a continued voice for increased military assistance to Israel – a key ally that has faced a steady barrage of ugly threats from Iran.  I included a doubling of Iron Dome funding in last year’s defense appropriations bill.


The agreement before us is a comprehensive solution to the nuclear weapons issue, and without a nuclear weapon to embolden Iran, the agreement allows the US and its allies to better deter Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region. 


Strong leaders and nations such as the United States talk to their enemies…and negotiate in their national interests when possible. 


Such actions aren’t taken out of weakness, but out of strength.  And sometimes the benefits are only witnessed over time. 


This is simply common sense and has been the practice of this nation for generations, regardless of who was in the White House – something many in this chamber seem to have forgotten. 


Quite simply, throughout our history, American leaders have successfully and aggressively used diplomacy to limit threats from countries such as Iran. 


And when Republican presidents negotiated with dangerous regimes such as China or the Soviet Union, Democrats were willing to support their president. 


Let’s start in 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis, which almost led to nuclear war with a nation with whom we were locked in a dangerous global standoff. 


Few realize how close we came to a possible nuclear confrontation that could have left Miami or much of the world destroyed.


Many hawks in then-President Kennedy’s administration wanted to take more aggressive military action, including a full invasion of Cuba. 


But Kennedy wisely pursued a careful balance of strength and diplomacy – using a blockade and negotiations to bring us back from the brink.


At the time, few people knew that Kennedy had also secretly agreed to remove American nuclear-armed Jupiter missiles from Turkey and Italy as part of the deal with Soviet Premier Khrushchev to remove the Soviet nuclear missiles from Cuba.


Are we going to say that Kennedy should never have negotiated out of this crisis because the Soviets were behind other destabilizing and anti-US efforts around the world? 


Let’s not forget, when this crisis took place, not only was the Soviet Union placing nuclear missiles off our shores, but it was occupying eastern Europe and trying to spread communism in many other corners of the globe.  The bloody Korean War, in which the Soviets helped the North Koreans against the US, was a recent memory. 


The US found itself in multiple proxy wars with the Soviets during this period, but thankfully Kennedy had the wisdom to engage rather than allow those unsettling events to lead us to nuclear war.   


In 1972, then-President Nixon traveled to communist China to begin establishing normalized relations.


China was not a friend of the United States.  Quite the contrary.


It was, for example, a key supporter of the North Vietnamese who were ruthlessly fighting and killing US forces in Vietnam.  


In fact, during Nixon’s visit with then-Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, China was sending more weapons to the North Vietnamese.  This was happening even while Nixon was asking China to end its support for the North Vietnamese.


China’s regime was also fomenting communist revolutionary movements in Asia, including in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand – all against US interests.


Domestically, Chinese leader Mao Zedong had persecuted millions of his own people as part of the brutal Cultural Revolution. 


I recognize, as Nixon did then, that it is hard to enter negotiations with a regime as nefarious as China’s was then.  And just as with Iran today, some conservatives denounced Nixon’s move.


However, as China’s sphere of influence grew and relations between the US and the Soviet Union deteriorated, many in both parties – including Nixon – recognized that it was time to change our policy.


In fact, Nelson Rockefeller, Nixon’s rival for the Republican nomination in the 1968 campaign, called for more “contact and communication” with China.


Vice President Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic nominee in the 1968 election, also proposed “the building of bridges to the people of Mainland China” as well as advocated a partial lifting of the American trade embargo against China.


Then-Senator Ted Kennedy recognized Nixon’s diplomatic efforts toward China as a “magnificent gesture,” and other members of the Democrat-controlled Congress agreed.


Over time, President Nixon’s decision paid dividends that were in America’s interest.  China moderated its foreign policy and established stronger relations with the US. 


These relations aren’t perfect, and China’s international behavior is at times still deeply troubling, including its current behavior in the East China Sea.  But Nixon’s risk in seizing the perceived opening with China had many long term benefits. 


And more recently, in the late 1980s, President Regan began discussions with then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on the possibility of nuclear arms reductions.


When these talks started in October 1986, it seemed inconceivable that the US and Soviet Union would seriously negotiate on arms reductions.  Who could have imagined in 1986 that these two nuclear foes would sign an international treaty that would eliminate an entire class of missiles?


The Cold War was far from over.  In 1979, Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan in a continued attempt to spread communism, leading President Carter to halt US efforts to ratify SALT II, a strategic arms limitation treaty.  The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan also caused the US to boycott the 1980 Olympics in Moscow and to ban grain sales to the Soviets. 


In 1981, there was a severe crackdown on the pro-democracy Solidarity labor movement in Poland, including the imposition of martial law.  And in 1983, the Soviets shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007, killing nearly 300.


Whatever hope there was for a relaxation of tensions or “détente” in the 1970s seemed far from possible by the time Reagan assumed office. 


We also know now that even within Reagan’s administration, there was disagreement on how to handle the Soviets or what the US strategy should encompass. 


Let me read an excerpt from the January 17, 1988 New York Times about the opposition Reagan faced in negotiating an arms agreement with the Soviets.  It is eerily familiar to what we are hearing today with respect to Iran:


Already, right-wing groups … have mounted a strong campaign against the INF treaty.  They have mailed out close to 300,000 letters opposing it.  They have circulated 5,000 cassette recordings of Gen. Bernard Rogers, former Supreme Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, attacking it. And finally, they are preparing to run newspaper ads this month savaging Reagan as a new Neville Chamberlain, signing an accord with Hitler and gullibly predicting “peace for our time.”


Describing the consequences of President Reagan’s willingness to negotiate an arms agreement with the Soviet Union, conservative Post columnist George Will said in a 1987 Newsweek column, “Reagan has dramatically advanced the moral and psychological disarmament of the West by emphatically siding with those … who emphasize the role of ideology, and hence the radical differentness and dangerousness of the Soviet threat.”


The conservative National Review’s May 22, 1987, edition had the following cover titled, “Reagan’s Suicide Pact.” 


And here is a copy of a full page ad run in the Washington Times stating “Appeasement is as Unwise in 1988 as in 1938” with a plea to “Help us Defeat the Reagan-Gorbachev INF Treaty.”


President Reagan eventually agreed with then-Secretary of State Shultz that arms control could and would improve US national security, even as his own Secretary of Defense argued against them. 


In December 1987, Reagan and Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, committing the two superpowers to eliminate all their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.  This treaty was one of the first to rely on extensive on-site inspections for verification. 


It took five months after the treaty was signed for this chamber to vote 93-5 in favor of the INF Treaty.  This was a time when the Democrats had the majority in the Senate.


Democrats Claiborne Pell, then Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Sam Nunn, Chair of the Armed Services Committee, ushered the treaty successfully through both committees with overwhelming votes of approval.


In fact, at one point in March 1988 during Secretary Shultz’s testimony in the Foreign Relations Committee, it was Democratic Senators Brock Adams, Claiborne Pell, and Alan Cranston who came to Shultz’s defense from allegations made by then-Senator Jesse Helms.


Ultimately, more than 2,500 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles were destroyed.


Our relationship with the Soviet Union did not improve overnight and negotiating arms control treaties did not lead to the collapse of communism. But the agreement was in America’s strategic interests and helped eliminate an entire category of dangerous weapons from a dangerous adversary’s nuclear arsenal. 


Mr. President, imagine if 47 Senators had written directly to Khrushchev, Enlai, or Gorbachev, or hardliners around them, during these negotiations trying to scuttle agreements between the US and China or the Soviets. 


Hard to imagine?


Well that is exactly what happened here in this chamber earlier this year, when 47 Republican members of the US Senate incredibly wrote directly to the Iranian Supreme leader trying to scuttle any nuclear deal.


This reckless move trying to undermine talks and Iranian moderates was as transparent as those who denounced the final deal last week before even having possibly had the time to read all 100 plus pages.


Mr. President, certainly some of my colleagues have legitimate concerns regarding a deal with Iran.  I respect that and welcome the debate.  Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Corker has led efforts for members of that committee to carefully study the issue.  


Yet I am stunned, that on a matter so monumental, so important to us and our key allies around the world, that what appears to be driving policy for many is simply a rejection of anything advanced by this president – not to mention without offering any credible  alternative that stops Iran’s nuclear weapons program.


So today we have an opportunity with Iran that has not presented itself for more than 30 years – the opportunity to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. 


Like the earlier examples I mentioned, it doesn’t solve all the major problems with Iran, but it does solve a critical one.  And the agreement retains US freedom of action to counter Iran in other areas – action we must aggressively continue.   


After all, Reagan didn’t stop trying to counter Soviet actions after negotiating an arms treaty with Gorbachev.  And President Obama will not and should not stop working to diminish Iran’s influence after this deal. 


Mr. President, I am under no illusions that for some period Iran did pursue a nuclear bomb.  If realized, that would have had disastrous consequences for our allies and the region.


And I am under no illusions that Iran lied in the past about these efforts.


But the agreement reached last week provides unprecedented safeguards and inspections to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons now or in the future.

We are strong enough to test this agreement.  Not because Iran is suddenly an open democracy and not because it has suddenly become a responsible global actor, but because it serves our national security interests.


Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz, and Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman negotiated this agreement with a single focus: prevent Iran from getting any closer to obtaining a nuclear weapons. 


They achieved that goal – a goal that had been historically elusive until now.


To appreciate the magnitude of their task, let’s step back to take stock of Iran’s nuclear weapons program as it is today.


Iran currently has enough nuclear material to make ten nuclear weapons.  It has more than 19,000 centrifuges, many of which use a more advanced and powerful design.  Immediately prior to the interim agreement with the P5+1, Iran was enriching its uranium to 20 percent.  Iran’s breakout time was barely three months.  


It was an incredibly large and dangerous nuclear capability.  It was growing at a significant rate and was virtually unconstrained by the Bush administration.


This is the problem our diplomats inherited from the Bush administration. 


But thanks to them, this agreement cuts off every single one of Iran’s potential pathways to a bomb.  It shrinks major portions of this nuclear infrastructure.  It eliminates many parts of it.


It extends the breakout time to at least one year.  And it imposes for perpetuity some of the most stringent and intrusive verification procedures ever created.


The agreement cuts off the enrichment pathway to a bomb. 


The agreement reduces Iran’s uranium stockpile by 98%, cuts its number of centrifuges by more than two-thirds, and for the next fifteen years caps its enrichment at 3.67 percent.  It also prevents Iran’s underground facility at Fordow from being used for uranium enrichment.


The agreement cuts off the plutonium pathway to a bomb.


Iran is required to change its heavy-water reactor at Arak so that it can no longer produce weapons-grade plutonium.  How will we know?  Because we are helping to design it, we are monitoring the fuel in and out of it, and we are verifying it every step of the way.


The agreement also cuts off the covert pathway to a bomb.


All of us have deep suspicion over Iran’s nuclear intentions.  What if Iran tries to build a secret facility?  It is a very important question.


That is why our negotiating team designed a verification plan with no exits.  Led by Energy Secretary Moniz, our team thought long and hard over the last two years about how one might be able to cheat.  For every potential technique, they embedded a countermeasure in the text of the agreement. 


This weekend, Moniz explained it would be “virtually impossible” to hide nuclear activities under this agreement.  He is right.


It is the strongest nuclear verification system ever imposed on a peaceful nation – second only to the inspections we imposed on Iraq in the 1990s after its defeat on the battlefield.  In complexity, the agreement with Iran rivals only the most detailed nuclear agreements between the US and Russia.


Its end result is that Iran will not be able to do anything of significance without being caught.  And Iran cannot get any closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon without the international community knowing about it.  That was our negotiators’ standard, and they achieved it.


The agreement requires that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has 24/7 access to all of Iran’s declared nuclear facilities. 


This means in-person inspectors, remote cameras, and tamper proof seals – all of the world’s most sophisticated detection technologies.  As one nuclear expert commented last week, “If a rat enters a nuclear facility, we will know it.”


Critically, the agreement also requires intrusive monitoring of the entire nuclear supply chain, from the uranium mines to the centrifuge production facilities.  It will allow IAEA inspectors to follow every ounce of uranium from the ground to its final destination, and every piece of nuclear infrastructure from its creation to its use.  If Iran tries to divert anything to a covert facility, we will know.


This agreement also sets up a dedicated procurement channel.  Any dual-use item Iran wants to purchase from the international community must go through this channel. 


The US and its allies have a veto over such purchases.  It makes it almost impossible for Iran to import anything of benefit to a nuclear weapons program.


Lastly, Iran must also abide by the Additional Protocol forever.  This allows the IAEA to have access to non-nuclear sites in a timely fashion, in as little as two hours. 


The agreement also requires any disputes over access to these non-nuclear sites to be resolved in short order.  If not, Iran would be in violation of its commitments and sanctions could quickly snap back.


Critics have complained about the time period our nuclear experts negotiated.  But as Secretary Moniz and many others with PhDs have pointed out, uranium has a half-life of 4.5 billion years.  It doesn’t disappear like invisible ink.  It cannot be cleaned up in a matter of weeks.  If Iran cheats, we will know.   


President Reagan was correct to negotiate with the Soviets when there were strategic openings and President Obama is doing the same thing with the Iranians.


The potential benefits of this deal are too significant, and the costs of not doing so too high, to just walk away.


If we walked away, the international sanctions regime would crumble and Iran would have few if any restrictions on its program.


Imposing more sanctions or simply bombing Iran today would create an even greater security risk to the region.


In fact, if we bombed Iran today, it would almost certainly withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and kick out inspectors.  As soon as that happens, Iran’s nationalistic backlash would almost assure that the regime would build a nuclear bomb.


Over the longer term, if Iran were to fail or cheat despite its international commitment, we retain the right to use military force and we would be in a much better position internationally to do so.


And accepting this deal does nothing to stop the US and allied efforts from countering Iran’s behavior elsewhere in the world.  Key sanctions on Iran’s support for terrorist groups will remain in place.  Our support for regional allies will remain strong, if not stronger. 


And, critically, an Iran determined to destabilize parts of the Middle East with a nuclear weapon in its arsenal, will no longer be an option.


No doubt this is why some 60 of the most respect names in foreign policy, Democrats and Republicans alike, recently wrote in support of this agreement.  Those signing included Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; Secretary of Defense William Perry; Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill; National Security Advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft; Under Secretaries of State Nicholas Burns and Thomas Pickering; US Ambassadors Ryan Crocker and Stuart Eizenstat; US Senators Tom Daschle, Carl Levin, George Mitchell, Nancy Landon Kassebaum, and many others.


Mr. President, we should do the same and support this agreement in the Senate.