WASHINGTON – At a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing Tuesday on ‘The View from Congress: U.S. Policy on Iran,’ U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the Ranking Member, delivered the following opening remarks:
“Iran deserves special attention and this Committee can, I think, play a critical role. We have in the past. I think back about the legislation that authorized the sanctions against Iran for its nuclear activity. I congratulate Senator Menendez for his leadership on that legislation. It led to sanctions being imposed by the United States, and then with the strong diplomatic efforts of our country and leadership, we were able to get other countries to join us. We were able to isolate Iran to a point where they felt it was in their interest to negotiate with us and our allies for a nuclear agreement. During that process, Mr. Chairman, under your leadership, we were able to bring together different views on our Committee for the proper review of that legislation. I think as a result the agreement was stronger and the public understood what was going on, and we had much more transparency. So I think we played an important role.
“Well, we are now 15 months passed the JCPOA; you and I both opposed that agreement. It’s been in force for 15 months and I strongly believe that it would be against U.S. interests to withdraw from the JCPOA or to take any actions that could be interpreted to be in conflict with the JCPOA. Having said that, Iran’s activities today are as bad as they have ever been and probably worse. They are certainly increasing their terrorist sponsorship in the Middle East as we see in so many different countries in that region. Their record on violating the ballistic missile obligations are well known and well understood. Their human rights violations against their own citizens are horrible, one of the worst countries in the world. They violate the arms embargo and the list goes on and on. So, it is appropriate to get this Committee to look at what we can do to make sure that first, the Iran nuclear agreement is honored so that Iran does not become a nuclear weapons state, but then secondly, look at those activities that were not covered under the JCPOA as to how we can play a stronger role.
“Mr. Chairman, I particularly want to thank you and Senator Menendez for the work that we have done in bringing together a bill that we introduced this week, that I think will appropriately isolate the activities that I previously mentioned for a stronger position for U.S. leadership among our allies to make sure that Iran understands, yes, we will live up to the JCPOA, yes, we believe that Iran’s nuclear ambitions must be avoided. But there are other activities that are of equal concern and we are going to continue to speak out and take action if Iran does not change its sponsorship of terrorism, if it continues to violate ballistic missile obligations, if it violates the arms embargo, and human rights issues. And that’s exactly what our legislation does and I thank you for the efforts that we have made.
“We have to recognize that there are other areas that we need to be prepared for in dealing with Iran. Under the JCPOA, there are deadlines. After five years, the restrictions for conventional weapons sales and technology go away. After eight years, the restrictions on ballistic missile-related transfers to Iran goes away; and at ten years; all the provisions of Security Council Resolution 2231, which brought the JCPOA into force, are terminated.
“So we need to start thinking about as we reach those dates, what are the appropriate policies for the United States without the protections we have that currently exist? So it is important that we do that. It is difficult to find someone willing to disagree with the notion that Iran’s behavior in the region is not getting worse. Every conversation we have, with what is going on in Syria, what’s going on in Yemen, what’s going on with the concerns of the Gulf states, Iran comes into our discussions. So we need to take a very tough position.
“Lastly Mr. Chairman, I know that you will be disappointed if I don’t at least mention at least once the Trump Administration in my opening statements. I am concerned about whether we have a coherent policy from the Trump Administration. I know it is early, I understand that. But I take a look at the skinny budget that they presented, and it would diminish the U.S. role globally rather than strengthening our ability to deal with issues that concern Iran. So I think it is important that this Committee speak, and I think it is important that the Trump Administration is held accountable to make sure they understand the seriousness of Iran in that region, and how we can constructively try to modify its destructive behavior.”