From Rep. John Carney (9/17/15)
Thank you for contacting me about the nuclear deal with Iran. I appreciate hearing from you on this extremely serious issue, and I can assure you that I took the thoughts of the many Delawareans I heard from into consideration as I weighed this decision.
In 2010, before I was elected as your congressman, I visited the state of Israel with several other Delawareans. The trip was a transformational experience. As a lifelong Catholic, visiting the Holy Land had a deep spiritual impact on me. And it also seared in my mind the vulnerability of the state of Israel. We met with several representatives of the Israeli government, one of whom was the country's expert on Iran. The picture he painted of Iran's nuclear program, and its potential impact on the region, convinced me of one thing I have never forgotten: a nuclear-armed Iran is an existential threat to the state of Israel. Coming home on the plane, I resolved that preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon would be one of my highest priorities if elected.
That's why I believe that whether or not to approve the nuclear deal with Iran may be the most significant vote I will take as your member of Congress. It has far-reaching implications for our national security, the continued existence of the state of Israel, and America's role on the global stage. Over the past several months, I've heard from thousands of my constituents, leaders in the Jewish community, members of the Administration's negotiating team, experts on nuclear weaponry, scientists, Vice President Biden, and President Obama. And I have read the text of the agreement and the classified documents that go with it -- all with the goal of answering the question: is this deal better than no deal at all?
That's the choice I believe we face. Some whom I respect deeply believe the United States can reject this deal, go back to the negotiating table, and hammer out a new, better deal. I simply do not believe that is possible. Our negotiating partners have made clear that the international sanctions regime that forced Iran to participate in the talks will collapse if the U.S. rejects this deal. Our options for preventing Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapon will diminish, bringing us closer to the moment every one of us wants to avoid -- U.S. military action against Iran.
This deal has strengths, and it has shortcomings. Most important, the agreement severely curtails Iran's nuclear program by blocking its pathway to a bomb. It rolls back its level of uranium enrichment, it removes the vast majority of the Iranian stockpile of uranium, and it cripples the plutonium reactor at Arak. These reductions have been praised by nuclear scientists, including Secretary Moniz, and characterized as "remarkable changes" by former Secretary of State General Colin Powell.
The agreement also provides an extensive and intrusive inspections regime to make sure these reductions are implemented and to oversee each step of the scaled back enrichment process going forward. Under the deal, Iran will be subject, in perpetuity, to wide-reaching and verifiable inspections of declared nuclear sites. And the agreement has teeth -- its provisions are enforceable.
I am under no illusions, though, that we can count on Iran to adhere to this deal in good faith. Given our experience we must assume that Iran will try to cheat. If that happens, the U.S. can and will exercise our prerogative under the deal to "snap back" the sanctions regime. Importantly, we don't need permission from China, Russia, or any other country to do so. Should that response prove ineffective, the simple reality is that we may still be compelled to use military force against Iran's nuclear facilities. If using military force does become necessary, though, we will be taking that step armed with intelligence from inspectors on the ground made possible under the deal. And we will be more likely to have the world community on our side having tried diplomacy first through this agreement.
Alternatively, if we reject this deal, it's clear to me that the rest of the world will begin lifting its sanctions, giving Iran many of the benefits of the deal -- namely, sanctions relief -- without the significant reductions in its nuclear program. As a result, Iran's nuclear program will remain on its current course, which means its breakout time to a bomb will continue to be in the one-to-two month timeframe. Simply put, the bomb will be more readily achievable, and, if we reject this deal, we'll be worse off than we are today. If we are forced to take military action to destroy Iran's nuclear capability, we will be going in blind, and alone.
I agree with the concern that in freeing up some of Iran's assets, this deal could return funds to one of the world's most notorious sponsors of terrorism. Many of my constituents and my colleagues in the House have articulated the need for the U.S. to do more, outside of the nuclear agreement, to confront Iran on this front. I raised this concern directly with President Obama. He assured me that the U.S. is prepared to do more to confront the Iranians on their development of conventional weapons, their support of terrorist groups, and their human rights violations. We can do this by providing more support to Israel and our allies in the region and by imposing more effective economic sanctions outside of this agreement. I urge the President to make good on this pledge sooner rather than later -- so that Iran knows we're serious, and so that Israel and our allies in the region are protected.
Thank you again for sharing your thoughts with me on this issue. I know not all of my constituents will agree with this position, but I can assure you this was not a decision I took lightly. I have heard the arguments on both sides, from people all over our state. But in the end, I decided to support the agreement, because I have concluded that this deal is better than no deal at all. The hard truth is, I believe those are our only two choices at this juncture.
From Senator Chris Coons, 10/5/15
Thank you for writing to me about the recent nuclear agreement reached between the United States, its international partners, and Iran. I appreciate hearing your perspective on this agreement.
On July 14, 2015, President Obama announced a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which I co-sponsored, provided Congress the framework to approve or disapprove the agreement. After careful and thoughtful consideration, I decided to support the nuclear agreement with Iran, and I voted against legislation designed to reject it in Congress.
As I considered my position, I thoroughly reviewed the text of the agreement and had dozens of conversations with Delawareans, senior administration officials, and national security and nuclear proliferation experts who support and oppose the deal.
I found several areas where I would prefer the terms of enforcement to be clearer and stronger. For example, I have deep concerns about the scope and implications of Iran’s permitted centrifuge development program after ten years and its nuclear enrichment capacity after fifteen years. Even if Iran complies with the letter and spirit of the agreement, in fifteen years an economically stronger Iran would be able to quickly develop the material needed for a nuclear weapon. This agreement, at best, freezes Iran’s nuclear enrichment program for ten to fifteen years. It does not dismantle or destroy it as I hoped it would.
Despite these concerns, I chose to support the agreement for several important reasons. As I said in my speech at the University of Delaware in September, I am convinced that there is no viable, better alternative. This agreement puts us on a known path of limiting Iran’s nuclear program for the next fifteen years with the full support of the international community. The alternative, to me, is a scenario of uncertainty and isolation. I support this agreement despite its flaws because it is the better strategy for the United States to lead a coalesced global community in containing the spread of nuclear weapons.
In my conversations with our European allies, I have been reassured that they stand ready to join us in strict enforcement of this deal. I will continue to press for zero tolerance for Iranian cheating. Thus far, I have been pleased to hear that the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the European Union will join us without hesitation in re-imposing unilateral sanctions, as well as their own multilateral European Union sanctions, in a calibrated manner if Iran violates the JCPOA incrementally, which will help us deter non-compliance.
I am also convinced of the real benefits of greater access to Iran's nuclear sites and infrastructure that come from fully implementing the JCPOA. Most experts agree that the 24/7 on-site inspections of the entire Iranian nuclear fuel cycle under the JCPOA offer us extremely valuable insights into the program for decades to come. Should the Iranians violate the agreement and move forward with nuclear weapons development, we are far more likely to detect it and be in a position to take decisive action with this agreement than without it.
Right now, we have an opportunity to lead our allies in containing a dangerous nation’s ability to secure a weapon of mass destruction. We can do this through a combination of diplomacy and deterrence that gives our allies in the region the support to defend themselves and the confidence that if diplomacy fails, we will invoke military options.
This agreement achieves several critical goals that freeze or roll back different aspects of Iran’s nuclear program. To get any sanctions relief, Iran must give up 97% of its existing stockpile of enriched uranium from 11,000 kg (over 12 tons) to 300 kg (or less than 700 pounds). Iran must disable two-thirds of its centrifuges from over 19,000 to 6,000, and permanently change its heavy water reactor at Arak so it no longer can produce weapons grade plutonium. Iran also agreed to thorough, intrusive, 24/7 inspections of all of its known nuclear sites – uranium mines, mills, centrifuge production and uranium enrichment facilities – for fifteen years or more.
This agreement reliably increases the time required for Iran to assemble the fissile material for a nuclear weapon from the current estimated time of two or three months to at least a year for the next decade or more. Together, these provisions significantly degrade Iran’s ability to convert a nuclear energy program to a nuclear weapons program, and they significantly improve our ability to monitor attempts to do so.
Both critics and supporters of the agreement have pointed out its impact on Israel. The United States has an unbreakable historic bond with Israel, which I strongly support. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I have advocated for the annual provision of over $3 billion of economic and military support for the government of Israel. I have also been an advocate for Israel’s multi-tiered rocket and missile defense including the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and Arrow weapon systems. I have also been an advocate for operational cooperation to improve Israel’s conventional military and counterterrorism capabilities, and providing Israel with advanced technology, such as the fifth-generation stealth Joint Strike Fighter, to which no other state in the region has access.
My support for this deal in no way diminishes my support for Israel’s security. On October 1, 2015, I joined both supporters and opponents of the Iran nuclear deal in introducing the Iran Policy Oversight Act of 2015, legislation that seeks to lock in the best aspects of the nuclear deal and minimize its potential negative consequences. One important section of the bill provides for the rapid renewal of a Memorandum of Understanding for our government’s security assistance to Israel to make sure Israel maintains a credible conventional military deterrent and to ensure it can respond to the threat posed by Iran during the next ten years and beyond. I will continue to support efforts to build Israel’s military capabilities, and shape a regional and international environment that enhances Israel’s security well into the future.
The Iran Policy Oversight Act also addresses my continued concerns regarding Iran’s behavior outside the scope of the nuclear agreement. The bill requires a long-term regional strategy for countering Iran’s support for violent extremist groups in the Middle East. It also requires the administration to track and report on Iran’s use of the funds it receives through sanctions relief associated with this deal. Iran’s record of arming terrorist organizations, imprisoning people of faith, and stifling all forms of civil society is well known and among the worst in the world. My bill commits our government to the strict enforcement of sanctions related to Iran’s non-nuclear activities, all of which will remain in place as a critical element of U.S. policy under the JCPOA.
There are few votes in the U.S. Senate that have as much consequence to the security of the United States and Israel as this vote on the nuclear agreement with Iran. I thank you and the thousands of other Delawareans who have contacted me in recent months with your thoughts on this issue.
Again, thank you for contacting me. I am honored to represent Delaware in the United States Senate and truly value hearing from Delawareans on issues of concern. My website, www.coons.senate.gov, can provide additional details about my work in the Senate, including legislation and state projects. I value your input and hope you will continue to keep me informed of the issues that matter to you.