Number 2 House Democrat backs Iran deal

Rep. Steny Hoyer
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) supports the Iran deal though he has “serious concerns.” File photo.

On Wednesday, House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced his support of the Iran nuclear agreement. Hoyer stated this is not the agreement he would have negotiated; however, “it is the agreement that the United States agreed to and that is now before the Congress.  Although it was a difficult choice, I have decided to oppose a resolution of disapproval, albeit with serious concerns.” His full statement follows:

“Like my colleagues, I have been spending much time analyzing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) reached with Iran.  There is no greater danger to the peace and security of the United States and the Middle East than Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon and its continued efforts to achieve regional hegemony.  Iran’s theocratic dictator has stated that the Iranian regime’s goals remain the destruction of Israel, opposition to American interests in the region, and the success of Iran’s surrogates through violence and fear.  Iran continues to earn its designation by the State Department as one of the leading state sponsors of terrorism in the world.  Allowing such a regime to possess the world’s most dangerous weapon would be unthinkable.

“This agreement is not one which I would have negotiated, nor one I think should have been agreed to, given the collective strength of the P5+1 compared to that of Iran.  I believe this agreement gives too much to Iran and demands too little in return.  It only partially meets the objectives of the international community within a limited time period in return for fully and permanently lifting nuclear-related sanctions.  It strengthens a regime that has been adjudged by the United Nations, the United States, and a great number of the nations of the world as a sponsor and perpetrator of terrorism.

“The Ayatollah Khamenei – not some backbench member of its parliament or out-of-government political or religious zealot – stated recently in unequivocal terms that America is Iran’s enemy and that the elimination of Israel is Iran’s intent.  Throughout history, the world has witnessed the tragic consequences of the kind of fanaticism Iran’s leaders espouse.  Too often, this rhetoric of hatred and murderous intent has been ignored with catastrophic results.  It is a lesson the people of Israel know all too well, and they are justified in seeing this new threat through the lens of history.  The international community has a moral and strategic obligation to ensure nothing like the Holocaust ever again occurs.

“It is in that context that we consider whether to disapprove the pending agreement.  As so many of my colleagues have done, I have analyzed in great detail the specific provisions of the JCPOA and its annexes, and I have concluded that this is not the best deal the P5+1 could have achieved.  However, it is the agreement that the United States agreed to and that is now before the Congress.  Although it was a difficult choice, I have decided to oppose a resolution of disapproval, albeit with serious concerns.

“First, I find it very doubtful that, absent a clear and egregious violation by Iran, a full ‘snap-back’ of sanctions would occur.  However, I believe there must be a zero-tolerance policy for any breach, major or minor. The agreement does not provide explicitly for proportional snap-back of sanctions to deal with smaller violations.  Surely Iran will do everything it can to test the international community’s will to snap sanctions back into place in full force, and, amid a range of uncertainties, I am not confident that the international community will be prepared to do so for less-than-egregious violations.

“Second, the limiting of this agreement’s principal restrictions to fifteen years with regard to the production of uranium is deeply disturbing.  So is its removal of the restriction on importing conventional weapons in only five years or ballistic missile technology in eight.  Iran has not given us any reason to believe that it will change its ways or its ambition for a nuclear arms capability within such limited timeframes.  I am likewise troubled by the JCPOA’s underlying premise of permanent sanctions relief for temporary nuclear and conventional weapons restrictions.

“Third, Iran will be receiving substantial financial benefits in the near term that it can employ in further support of its surrogate terrorist organizations, threatening the United States, Israel, and other nations.  I agree with proponents of the agreement that Iran’s status as a rogue actor provides all the more reason to constrain its nuclear program.  However, I do not believe this deal does enough to offset the high probability that Iran will use its financial gain to threaten the United States, Israel, and our European and Gulf allies by other means.   Iran will be emboldened by this deal to expand exactly those activities of greatest concern to the United States and our partners, which is especially troubling because of Iran’s continued attempts to ship arms to Hezbollah and Iran’s proxies in Iraq, Yemen, and Syria as well as its unyielding rhetoric threatening the destruction of Israel and harm to America.

“Fourth, the twenty-four-day timeframe in which Iran can deny inspectors’ access is troubling and could be used to hide work on materially significant nuclear activities.  I believe the P5+1 should have secured a straightforward, limited-delay inspection mechanism for civilian nuclear and military sites, the absence of which sends a problematic message to Iran that it has wiggle room on the most fundamental element of this agreement.  Furthermore, news that Iran’s own personnel will be tasked with conducting sample retrieval for testing at the Parchin facility is disconcerting, however intricate the procedures established to collect those samples.  Even if we already know key details of Iran’s past military activities, I cannot surmount the deleterious symbolic impact of IAEA inspectors not conducting this inspection independently.

“Fifth, the JCPOA articulates as an objective to refrain from any policy specifically intended to ‘directly and adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations’ with Iran.  I do not support such normalization until such time that Iran has stopped supporting terrorism and terrorists; has stopped destabilizing its region; has stopped threatening the existence of Israel; and has, as a policy, stopped expressing hostility toward the United States.

“Neither option before the Congress is a good one. But a consensus has been reached that the JCPOA does achieve, for a time, serious constraints on Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon. If adhered to and enforced, which must be our objective, it will provide insight into Iran’s activities and oversight of Iran’s performance of its obligations.  That is why, going forward, I will support vigorous efforts to enforce this agreement.

“No matter how deep, how personal, and how sincere my concerns about this agreement are, they ultimately do not outweigh the need for a united position on Iran.  I will be casting my vote against disapproval to send a signal to our allies and to Iran that the United States is serious about meeting the commitments our negotiators have made – and, more importantly, that Congress will work in a bipartisan way with the Administration to ensure that this agreement is fully and effectively enforced.  When our government is divided, it raises questions to our partners and – even more problematically – to our adversaries, about our unity of purpose in fulfilling America’s global security role.   We must stand together to confront the threats from Iran. If we do not, there will be very consequential and long-term global ramifications.

“It is clear that the JCPOA will go forward.  We must now unite behind two critical objectives:  1) bolstering the JCPOA and insisting on its strict enforcement to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon; and 2) contextualizing this agreement within a broader regional strategy to halt Iran’s support for terrorism and other malevolent activities that threaten our allies and regional security.

“With regard to the first of these objectives, I would urge the Administration to make unambiguously clear its determination to enforce this agreement to its letter and spirit.  That includes agreeing with our P5+1 partners on clear and unambiguous consequences for any and all major or minor breaches of the JCPOA and conveying them to Iran and to the United Nations.  Every option, including military force, must remain on the table to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  The legislation authorizing sanctions that is set to expire next year ought to be renewed.

“Congress needs to take steps to fortify and enforce the JCPOA, including a codification of proportional snap-back sanctions if Iran is found to be non-compliant to any extent with the agreement as well as an increase in funding for the IAEA and our intelligence community to ensure adequate monitoring and verification.

“The United States should continue to work with its partners to raise the bar for all Non-Proliferation Treaty signatories and institutionalize JCPOA restrictions as a baseline for Treaty compliance.  We should also take steps to establish a clear definition under the Treaty of a ‘peaceful nuclear program,’ so that there is no ambiguity regarding Iran’s conduct.

“With regard to the second of the objectives I listed, we must make certain that we continue to support Israel and our Gulf partners against Iran’s expansionist policies and its sponsorship of terrorism.  We must continue to present strong, bipartisan solidarity with Israel by providing it with the necessary tools to maintain its qualitative military edge.  This includes possible transfer of the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) to Israel or deployment by the United States of the MOP to the region; provision of relevant special operations equipment; enhancement of Israel’s cyber capabilities to defend against an Iranian attack; anti-tunneling cooperation; and augmentation of Israel’s maritime capabilities to protect its offshore energy fields.

“Similarly, to the extent Iran’s terrorist support constitutes a grave threat to Israel and our allies, the United States and our partners must enforce zero tolerance for Iran’s destabilizing activities and show Iran’s leadership the cost of its Revolutionary Guard Corps operations in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Gaza.  I urge the President to work with our partners at the United Nations to authorize the boarding of vessels suspected of trafficking in Iranian arms and to enact a new U.N. Security Council resolution on the interdiction of Iranian weapons.  I will continue working with my colleagues in Congress to impose new sanctions on firms or state entities that sell conventional arms and missile technology to Iran, along with new sanctions against entities involved in the detention of activists and journalists – including the four Americans currently detained in Iran.

“In addition, this deal contemplates a potential political change within Iran.  By offering Iran a measure of cooperation, proponents argue that we can create space for forces of reform to take shape; rejecting a deal, they say, will embolden hardliners.  I believe Iran’s hardliners will do whatever they can to maintain power and resist liberalization, which is why I continue to support enhanced democracy assistance for Iran, including reauthorization of measures to help the courageous activists who led the Green Revolution protests in 2009.

“I would also support the creation of a Congressional Oversight Commission to ensure Iranian adherence to the JCPOA and to recommend Congressional action in response to both minor and major breaches by Iran.  For ten years, I chaired the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was established to oversee the implementation of the Helsinki Final Act of 1975.  President Ford’s critics claimed he was consigning the Soviet satellite nations to permanent puppet status, because the Soviets believed the language contained in the Helsinki Final Act would have no effect.  Fifteen years later, the Soviet Union was imploding, and those nations were on the cusp of independence, something no one could have predicted in 1975. That agreement and the JCPOA are very different, of course.  Ten or fifteen-year predictions are almost impossible to make.  But determined, robust, unwavering, and unambiguous commitment to the objectives set forth by both Congress and the Administration will be necessary if the JCPOA is not simply to become a delay in Iran’s efforts to become a nuclear weapon nation.

“In his inaugural address, John F. Kennedy, in speaking of our allies, said: ‘United, there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures.  Divided, there is little we can do – for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.’  We must move forward in strong alliance with those who share our values and with whom we are committed to common objectives.  Now there must be no uncertainty of our resolve or our determination to enforce Iran’s obligations.  In that same speech, President Kennedy referenced I Corinthians 14:8, which asks: ‘For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle?’  Our own trumpet needs to be loud and clear: no nuclear-armed Iran – not now, not ever.  Our resolve will be tested in the weeks and months and years to come.  How we meet that test will be the assessment of this agreement’s worth or risk.

“It is now time to move beyond divisive debate and pour our energy into strengthening the bipartisan U.S.-Israel partnership, not trying to undo the JCPOA through endless legislative maneuvers.  No matter how Members vote, I know they are doing so with the best of intentions and after very difficult deliberation.  We must not impugn the motives of the agreement’s opponents or of Israelis to whom Iran presents a very real present danger.  Those supporting this agreement care deeply about America’s role in the world and the security of Israel and our allies, and all are determined to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  Suggestions to the contrary are dangerous and undeserved, and they must not be allowed to weaken the bipartisanship Congress enjoys with regard to support for Israel.  The best form of reconciliation will be a bipartisan commitment to action.  I look forward to doing my part to facilitate this process.”

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