October 19, 2017

Kaine Says Trump Decision To Not Certify Iran Deal Raises The Risk Of War

**You can watch Kaine’s full speech here[s3.amazonaws.com].** 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, delivered a floor speech highlighting how President Trump’s decision to not certify the Iran Nuclear Agreement jeopardizes U.S. diplomacy and raises the risk of war. Kaine criticized President Trump for undermining the deal despite IAEA verification that Iran is in compliance and confirmation from the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the deal is in U.S. national security interests.  Kaine stressed the importance of a diplomacy first foreign policy, saying that it shows the American public and our servicemembers that all options have been exhausted before turning to military engagement. Kaine also said that the President’s pattern of reckless decision-making and continued disregard for diplomacy hampers the ability of the United States to counter Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region and the more imminent threat posed by North Korea.

Kaine said: “And the President has repeatedly undercut his Secretary of State’s diplomatic efforts with North Korea. President Trump's most recent action, his recent attack on diplomacy is the decision to decertify the Iran deal – I think this could be the most dangerous yet. By stepping back from a diplomatic deal that the U.S. made with the global community that is clearly working, the President is publicly undercutting diplomatic negotiations and he's setting us on a road where military options become increasingly more likely. I’ll state it bluntly: If you weaken diplomacy, you raise the risk of unnecessary war and that's what this President is doing.”

“Don’t we owe it to the American public and don't we owe it to our troops that if there is any chance of a diplomatic negotiation and a diplomatic end to this program, that we would seek to exhaust and explore it? Of course we do, and yet every time Secretary of State Tillerson talks about trying to have some diplomatic outcome to pressure the Chinese to use leverage against North Korea, the President pours cold water on him, and I would argue that stepping back from the Iran deal sends an unmistakable signal to North Korea. If I’m right and there is even a small chance of a diplomatic resolution, that the message we send to North Korea is the U.S. will back out of a nuclear deal even when it's being complied with, I think we drive the chances of a diplomatic resolution in North Korea down to zero, and we should not do that,” Kaine said.

Kaine concluded: “I have had to cast two war votes in the United States Senate, both as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And I have been a city councilman and a mayor and a lieutenant governor and a governor; casting a war vote is different than any vote that you ever have to cast, any vote that you ever have to cast. And I got a son in the military, and that makes that vote different than any vote I have cast in 23 years in public life. And I may have to cast other votes to go to war as a Member of Congress against other nations, whether it's against non-state terrorist groups or whether it's against a nation like North Korea or even Iran if they break for nuclear weapons. If I have to cast that vote, if I have to contemplate putting Congress on record that we should go to war, I want to be able to look American troops in the face and say I exhausted every diplomatic option before I cast this vote. I think that's an obligation that we owe to the public and we owe to our troops.”

Kaine has been a leading voice on Iran and was a co-author of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015.  He has consistently supported efforts to push back on Iran’s destabilizing behavior, to include supporting the Countering U.S. Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017, which strengthened sanctions on Iran for its human rights abuses, ballistic missile testing, and support for terrorism, including Hezbollah, and voting in 2016 to extend the Iran Sanctions Act.

A full transcript of Kaine’s speech is available below:

Mr. President, I rise to speak about the President's action last week stepping away from certifying Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal that was negotiated between the United States allies and the nation of Iran. National security is about military power, but there's more than that. America’s strength also comes from the power to use diplomacy. In October 1945, President Harry Truman, my favorite President, changed the seal of the office of the President to have the eagle face the olive branches of diplomacy instead of the arrows of war signifying that America would always prefer to use diplomacy first.

In modern times, our judgements to go to war rather than use diplomacy have been flawed and under this Administration, diplomacy in my view is under assault, and that is why I rise today. We see a decimated State and USAID budget. We see bellicose rhetoric from the President. We see efforts to undermine publicly American diplomats engaged in negotiations and we see the refusal to even nominate key State Department diplomatic appointees. As of last week, the Administration did not put forward a nominee for approximately 52% of high-level positions at the state department that require approval by the Senate. 32 countries do not yet have ambassadors in place. And that includes no nomination from the White House for ambassadors to key countries like South Korea, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. No one's been nominated for Assistant Secretary of Arms Control, for Assistant Secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation, for Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, or East Asian and Pacific Affairs. How serious can the Administration be about nuclear threats with no ambassador to South Korea or no ambassadorial nomination for the key State Department official around nonproliferation?

And the President has repeatedly undercut his Secretary of State’s diplomatic efforts with North Korea. President Trump's most recent action, his recent attack on diplomacy is the decision to decertify the Iran deal. And I think this could be the most dangerous yet. By stepping back from a diplomatic deal that the U.S. made with the global community that is clearly working, the President is publicly undercutting diplomatic negotiations and he's setting us on a road where military options become increasingly more likely. I’ll state it bluntly: If you weaken diplomacy, you raise the risk of unnecessary war and that's what this President is doing.

First, President Trump's refusal to make the Iran certification and his threat to abandon the nuclear deal with Iran recalls the disastrous U.S. entrance into the Iraq War in 2003. Intelligence was politicized. The Administration repeatedly made false claims to justify going to war, a war of choice to overthrow Saddam Hussein. The Bush Administration insisted that regime change in Iraq was necessary and it insisted that because of the claim of Iraq’s continuing productions of weapons of mass destruction. In March of 2003, the IAEA came out and said there was no credible evidence that Iraq had a program of weapons of mass destruction and that there was no evidence that they had revived a nuclear program that they had shelved in the 1990's. But the Bush Administration would not accept that claim. It did not fit with the narrative that they were selling to the American people about Saddam Hussein, so they said the IAEA was wrong. They said we needed to initiate war, one that has proven so costly to Virginians and to Americans, in treasure and regional stability but especially in American lives, to prevent Iraq from obtaining weapons of mass destruction. We went to war and it turned out that the scientists and the technicians in the IAEA were right. Iraq didn't have a program of weapons of mass destruction, but the politicians who tried to undermine the credibility of the international agencies were wrong. The consequences of that decision are significant.

Ironically you can claim, I believe, there is strong evidence that that decision in 2003 has today led to greater Iranian influence in Iraq and the region and the proliferation of extremist groups that didn't exist before. We’re now hearing the Trump Administration make similar claims about Iran. That Iran may soon have a nuclear weapons program, that the IAEA cannot be trusted, that Iran supports Al Qaeda and from a Republican colleague, quote, “the policy of the United States should be regime change in Iran.” And from Secretary of State Tillerson, we need a, quote, “peaceful transition of the Iranian government.” So we should stop to think, is this really about the nuclear deal or is it about beginning a drumbeat from the Administration to march the U.S. toward another preventable war in the Middle East?

Second, while threatening to unilaterally terminate the nuclear deal at any time, President Trump also wants to revisit the terms of the deal to address what he sees as its flaws. This isn't new. Since the deal was announced, the day the deal was announced, some critics have argued we could get a better deal or push for some alternative. I wasn't then or now interested in the world of hypotheticals. I’m interested in the world of facts. And the fact is that the deal was working and it's dramatically better than the status quo for at least fifteen years and possibly longer. Additionally if we want to renegotiate the deal Iran will seek to do the same. If we take a step back from the deal, Iran will take a step back. And what will they ask for? That they get to now increase centrifuges or get some of their enriched uranium back? I don't want to give Iran one thing back from this deal, but if we step back from a deal that is working and say we want to renegotiate, they will, too, and I don't think we should tolerate that.

Most wars start because of miscalculations. The notion that we could renegotiate the deal just on our side and the other side wouldn't seek a renegotiation is magical thinking. World War I 100 years ago started – the U.S. entrance – 100 years ago started with miscalculations and most nations do. A miscommunication, a misunderstanding, another step, another step, and you're at war. We should be very, very wary.

I, Mr. President, and all of us are very willing to go after Iran on the nonnuclear front. It was just two months ago that we passed, I think, unanimously maybe there was one no vote in this body, a set of stiff sanctions against Iran, North Korea, and Russia. We have given the power to the President to impose more sanctions on Iran for bellicose behavior, for activities in other countries, for violations of human rights, for violating U.N. Security Council resolutions on their missile program. The President should use the sanctions power that we just gave him to go after Iran’s activity that violates international norms and makes America less safe. But when the IAEA and our allies and the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State all say that with respect to the nuclear deal, Iran is complying, we should avoid stepping back on that deal lest we suggest that the U.S. cannot be trusted in good faith to follow a deal.

Third, Mr. President, I worry about the timing of this effort to step away from the Iran deal with respect to the imminent threat. I hear concerns about the Iran deal, what Iran might be able to do in year eight or year ten or year 15. Let me tell you about something I’m worrying about this month. That’s the North Korean nuclear program. Mr. President, we have been in briefings and we hear the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State say to us and say to the world, the U.S. will always push for a diplomatic solution. We’re never out of diplomatic solutions. But let's be candid. What are the chances of a diplomatic solution with North Korea that would end or dramatically limit their nuclear weapons ambitions? I don't think the chances are high. I’d say that they are 20% at best. They're not zero, but they're not high either.

Don’t we owe it to the American public and don't we owe it to our troops that if there is any chance of a diplomatic negotiation and a diplomatic end to this program, that we would seek to exhaust and explore it? Of course we do, and yet every time Secretary of State Tillerson talks about trying to have some diplomatic outcome to pressure the Chinese to use leverage against North Korea, the President pours cold water on him, and I would argue that stepping back from the Iran deal sends an unmistakable signal to North Korea. If I’m right and there is even a small chance of a diplomatic resolution, that the message we send to North Korea is the U.S. will back out of a nuclear deal even when it's being complied with, I think we drive the chances of a diplomatic resolution in North Korea down to zero, and we should not do that.

Mr. President, there is significant evidence that this deal, while Iran’s nonnuclear behavior is worthy of additional sanctions and pressure, the deal on the nuclear program is working. Our closest European allies, U.S. intelligence services, the IAEA, the P-5. When I visit Israel and speak to national security and intelligence leaders such as Gadi Eizenkot, who’s essentially the equivalent of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, they say Iran is complying with the deal and it is making the world safer in the near and medium term. Secretaries Dunford and General Mattis have said the same thing. The deal, it gives us more intelligence because we have inspections that we didn't have before. We have gotten more inspections and we know more about the program. In the first paragraph of the deal, on the first page of the deal. Iran pledges to never purchase, acquire, or develop military weapons. That promise which is in perpetuity gives us a legal justification if they ever break it to take action, including military action to punish them for violating what they have signed. Do we want to give Iran the ability to step back from that promise that they have made by stepping back ourselves when the deal is working?

And finally, the deal gives us a coalition. Our partners around the world who signed onto the deal, who have been witness to the Iranian pledge, who know that Iran will have to permanently comply with the additional protocol of inspections under the deal, if we move away from the deal and Iran moves away from the deal, could we count on the coalition partners being with us to try to put a deal back together when it's been us alone among the partners who have walked away from the table? What coalition could we expect if we are the one that walks away from the table? If we say we're not interested in diplomacy? And later, if we need to take military action against Iran after we have walked away from a deal, could we expect a coalition to support us in that?

Mr. President, I just want to conclude in this way. I think the President's decision to step back from this diplomatic deal poses a real challenge for this Congress. The President has done some things I agree with, he has done a number of things I disagree with. He has only done one thing that scares me, and it's this. Because I think together with defunding the State Department and pouring cold water on diplomacy and not filling key posts, this leads us closer to an unnecessary war. When you reject diplomacy or weaken it, you run the risk of an unnecessary war.

I have had to cast two war votes in the United States Senate, both as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And I have been a city councilman and a mayor and a lieutenant governor and a governor; casting a war vote is different than any vote that you ever have to cast, any vote that you ever have to cast. And I got a son in the military, and that makes that vote different than any vote I have cast in 23 years in public life. And I may have to cast other votes to go to war as a member of Congress against other nations, whether it's against non-state terrorist groups or whether it's against a nation like North Korea or even Iran if they break for nuclear weapons. If I have to cast that vote, if I have to contemplate putting Congress on record that we should go to war, I want to be able to look American troops in the face and say I exhausted every diplomatic option before I cast this vote. I think that's an obligation that we owe to the public and we owe to our troops. We have to exhaust diplomacy.

And then there may come a time when that eagle cannot just face the olive branches of diplomacy but we have to insist on military strength to keep order in the world and protect Americans. But if we turn to those arrows of war, we should be able to look at our public and look at our troops and say we exhausted diplomacy. Stepping away from a diplomatic deal that is working is exactly the wrong thing for us to do at this time. It’s my hope that Congress will not dignify what the President is doing in this regard and that we will insist, yes, upon strict compliance and also insist upon sanctions against Iran for nonnuclear behavior, but let's not be a nation that refuses to keep its diplomatic commitments. The stakes are just too high. With that, Mr. President, thank you, and I yield the floor.

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