Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, was the 33rd of the 34 Senators whose approval would be needed to ensure that the Iran deal would be able to meet the 2/3rds minority it needed to prevent an override of a Presidential veto of Congress’ resolution of disapproval. Although the administration never turned over the full text of all side deals as required by the Corker-Cardin law, the administration pretended that it had met its responsibilities under the law and demanded that Congress abide by the review period that the law gave them. Congressional Republicans went along with this pretense, as did Democrats.
Coons’ announcement that he was going to back the plan helped sway other last minute commitments, allowing the Senate not only to be prepared to fail to override the President’s veto, but in fact to avoid taking a vote at all. Instead, the Senate allowed a filibuster that kept the matter from ever coming to a vote at all.
Now Coons says that he is certain that Iran will cheat on the deal. He nevertheless praised the deal for removing some uranium from Iranian hands, and for providing 24/7 inspection access at declared nuclear facilities. That part of the deal does indeed exist. Abbas Aragachi, Deputy Foreign Minister and a key member of the Iranian negotiating team, stated in his remarks to his colleagues that it would be fine if the IAEA were to sleep in those declared facilities, as nothing would be going on there. All the real work would be at undeclared facilities.
Even at the time he announced his support for the deal, Coons admitted that it was not the deal he had hoped for. His concerns went on for several paragraphs, and are worth reviewing in light of the dramatic shift in the region since Congress declared itself defeated on the deal.
I am troubled that the parties to this agreement – particularly Iran – have differing interpretations of key terms, and I remain deeply concerned about our ability to hold Iran to the terms of this agreement as we understand them. Under this agreement, Iran retains a civilian nuclear enrichment program that grows steadily in scope and the hardened underground nuclear facility at Fordow continues to exist filled with centrifuges which, while sidelined from enrichment for fifteen years, are not permanently shelved. Once Iran verifiably meets its obligations, it will gain access to tens of billions of dollars in Iranian assets frozen by our sanctions. We should expect that Iran will use some of those funds to support and arm its proxies in the region – terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah that threaten and attack Israel, or to support the murderous regime of Assad in Syria and the Houthis in Yemen. Five years after the agreement, the UN’s embargo on conventional arms shipments to Iran will end, and eight years after the agreement, the UN embargo on ballistic missile technology will end.
“I have a number of serious concerns based on Iran’s past behavior of cheating on nuclear agreements and our experiences trying to block other countries from developing nuclear weapons. The Islamic Republic of Iran has long threatened the United States and Israel in both fiery speeches and terrorist acts, and it continues to support terrorist groups across the region. Even as the P5+1 representatives were meeting to finalize this agreement, Iran tried an American Washington Post reporter for spying and other Americans remained jailed on trumped up charges in a notorious Iranian prison. So let’s be clear – no one should mistake Iran for a friend of the United States.
“One of the most important aspects of the agreement is the enforcement mechanisms. Here, too, this is not the agreement I would have preferred. We cannot trust the Iranians, and from the requirements and scope of snapping back sanctions to the timing and mechanisms of inspections, I found several areas in the text of the agreement where I would prefer the terms of enforcement to be clearer and stronger. I also stand with my colleagues who have raised real questions about the details of the IAEA’s agreement with Iran over the assessment of past nuclear weaponization activities at Parchin and the integrity of future inspections and enforcement as a result.
“I have deep concern 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 the Iranians comply with the letter and spirit of the agreement as negotiators for the United States understand it, a stronger, financially stable, and economically interconnected Iran will develop an expanded nuclear enrichment program after a decade which – if it then chooses to violate the agreement – would allow it to quickly develop enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon. This agreement – at best – freezes Iran’s nuclear enrichment program – it does not dismantle or destroy it as I hoped it would.
“Beyond the terms of the agreement, opponents decry the singular focus of the negotiations on the nuclear program to the exclusion of human rights issues and Iranian support for terrorism. I share their frustration. Iran’s record of arming terrorist organizations, imprisoning people of faith, accusing Americans of spying during visits to see their family, and stifling all forms of civil society, is well known and among the worst in the world. We cannot begin to consider a constructive dialogue with Iran until these issues are addressed. Frankly, I do not share the optimism of those who believe Iran is on the verge of truly opening to the West or of becoming a moderating force in the region. While we can hope and pray that someday the people of Iran will push their extreme leaders to moderation, we cannot count on that happening and we have to consider our path forward with a deserved and deep distrust of Iran’s intentions.
“So, given all of these concerns, I certainly understand why Delawareans would ask how I could possibly not oppose this agreement.