WASHINGTON, D.C. – In remarks on the Senate floor today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations & Armed Services Committees and co-author of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, announced his support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to peacefully limit Iran’s nuclear program.
In announcing his support, Kaine said: “I conclude that the JCPOA is a dramatic improvement over the status quo in improving global security. The agreement takes a nuclear weapons program that was on the verge of success and disables it for many years through peaceful diplomatic means with sufficient tools for the international community to verify whether Iran is meeting its commitments. In the negotiation, America has honored its best traditions and shown that patient diplomacy can achieve what isolation and hostility cannot. For this reason, I will support it.”
Kaine’s full remarks are below:
In November 2013, the United States and five global powers--the P5+1--announced an interim deal to freeze Iran’s nuclear program and negotiate a diplomatic resolution to one of the most important issues affecting global security. Since then, as a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, I have participated in scores of hearings, classified briefings, meetings and calls about this topic in Virginia, Washington and during five trips to the Middle East, including two trips to Israel. I have listened to the Administration, to allied nations in the Middle East and elsewhere, to national security and foreign policy experts, to critics and proponents of the deal, to current and former Senate colleagues (especially former Armed Services Chairmen John Warner and Carl Levin), to American military leaders and troops and to my constituents. I helped write the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, under which Congress is currently engaging in a 60 day review period to approve or disapprove of the suspension of Congressional sanctions as part of the final deal announced on July 14.
Based on my review of this complex matter, I acknowledge that every option before us involves risk, with upside and downside consequences. I understand how people of good will can reach different conclusions. But I also conclude that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is a dramatic improvement over the status quo in improving global security for at least 15 years and likely longer. In this deal, America has honored its best traditions and shown that patient diplomacy can achieve what isolation and hostility cannot. For this reason, I will support it.
Prior to the interim agreement of November 2013, and even in the face of a punishing international sanctions regime, Iran’s nuclear program was marching ahead:
- Iran had amassed more than 19,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium and that number was growing;
- Iran had produced more than 11,000 kilograms of enriched uranium and that stockpile was growing;
- Iran had perfected the ability to enrich uranium to the 20% level and that enrichment percentage was growing;
- Iran was constructing a heavy water reactor at Arak capable of producing weapons grade plutonium;
- Iran only allowed limited IAEA access to declared nuclear facilities, shielding its operation of covert nuclear sites.
The program was months away from being able to produce enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the United Nations in September 2012: “For over seven years, the international community has tried sanctions with Iran. Under the leadership of President Obama, the international community has passed some of the strongest sanctions to date. … It’s had an effect on the economy, but we must face the truth. Sanctions have not stopped Iran’s nuclear program.”
We must face the truth. A punishing sanctions regime did not stop Iran’s nuclear program. The nuclear program will only stop by a diplomatic agreement or by military action. While military action must be an option, it is in America’s interest—and the interest of the entire world—to use every effort to find a diplomatic resolution. In fact, that was the purpose of Iranian sanctions from the very beginning, to open a path to a diplomatic solution.
We now have a diplomatic solution on the table. The JCPOA is not perfect because all parties made concessions, as is the case in any serious diplomatic negotiation. But it has gained broad international support because it prevents Iran from getting sufficient uranium for a bomb for at least 15 years. It also stops any pathway to a plutonium weapon for that period and exposes Iranian covert activity to enhanced scrutiny by the international community forever. Under the deal, Iran does the following:
- It affirms that “under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons”;
- It reduces its quantity of centrifuges by more than two thirds;
- It slashes its uranium stockpile by 97%, to 300 kilograms, for 15 years. This is dramatically less than what Iran would need to produce a single nuclear weapon;
- It caps the enrichment level of the remaining uranium stockpile during that period at 3.67%;
- It reconfigures the Arak heavy water reactor so that it can no longer produce weapons grade plutonium;
- It commits to a series of limitations on research and development activities to guarantee that any nuclear program will be “for exclusively peaceful purposes” in full compliance with international non-proliferation rules;
- It agrees to a robust set of international inspections of its declared nuclear facilities, its entire uranium supply chain and its suspected covert facilities by a team of 130+ IAEA inspectors.
After year 15, the unique caps and requirements imposed on Iran are progressively lifted through year 25. After year 25, Iran is permanently obligated to abide by all international Non-Proliferation Treaty requirements, including the extensive inspections required by the NPT Additional Protocol. And its agreement that it will never “seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons” continues forever.
If Iran breaks its agreement, nuclear sanctions can be reimposed. The United States reserves the right to sanction Iran for activities unrelated to its nuclear program—including support for terrorism, arms shipments and human rights violations. Finally, and importantly, the U.S. and its partners maintain the ability to use military action if Iran seeks to obtain a nuclear weapon in violation of this deal. The knowledge of the Iranian program gained through extensive inspections will improve the effectiveness of any such action. And the clarity of Iran’s commitment to the world--in the first paragraph of the agreement--that it will never pursue nuclear weapons will make it easier to gain international support for military action should Iran violate this unequivocal pledge.
This deal does not solve all outstanding issues with an adversarial regime. In that sense, it is similar to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty that President Kennedy negotiated with the Soviet Union in the midst of the Cold War. Iran’s support for terrorism remains a major concern and we must increase efforts with our regional allies to counter those malign activities. But, at the end of the day, this agreement is not about making an ally out of an adversary. It is about denying an adversary a path to obtaining nuclear weapons. This deal takes a nuclear weapons program that was on the verge of success and disables it for many years through peaceful diplomatic means with sufficient tools for the international community to verify whether Iran is meeting its commitments. I hope this resolution might open the door to diplomatic discussion of other tough issues with Iran.
Monitoring this nuclear agreement, and countering Iran’s non-nuclear activity, will require great diligence by the U.S., our allies and the IAEA. And there will be an important role for Congress in this ongoing work. I look forward to working with my colleagues on measures to guarantee close supervision and enforcement of this deal. The work will be arduous, but is far preferable to allowing Iran to return to a march toward nuclear weapons. It is also far preferable to any other alternative, including war.