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May 7, 2015 10:36 am

Senator Menendez Has Always Been a Leader on Stopping Iran (INTERVIEW)

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U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) at an American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference. Photo: Maxine Dovere. – When Iran was in the incipient stages of its nuclear program, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) sponsored the Iran Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act of 1998, a bill that passed in the House of Representatives but not in the Senate. Seventeen years later, Menendez looks back with concern on how his initial calls to action on the nuclear issue went unheeded.

“We had not listened to the alarm bells… I wish others were right and I wrong, but, I was right and they were wrong,” Menendez said in an exclusive interview with, referring to his colleagues in Congress. “We have allowed Iran to advance to the point that we are now willing to accept that a great amount of [nuclear] infrastructure will stay in place, even though it may be in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

Menendez says he is “not intimidated by anyone.” That includes his most prominent fellow Democrat, President Barack Obama, whom Menendez has been at odds with on Iran. In what may have been the harshest critique to date of Obama’s approach to the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran—from a member of the president’s party, no less—Menendez said in January, “The more I hear from the administration and its quotes, the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran.”

The senator speaks with conviction and consistency about his beliefs, particularly about his support for Israel.

“It is in the [American] national security interest to have a strong, unwavering relationship with the state of Israel, to help the people defend themselves and live in peace in the land of their ancestors,” Menendez told

A first-generation American, Menendez is one of three Latino members of the Senate. Appointed to fill an interim seat in 2006, he was re-elected in 2007 and 2013. An early advocate of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear capabilities, he is adamant about assuring that Congress will have the opportunity to fully review a final nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers—hence his introduction, with U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015.

“Preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons capability is urgent for our own nation’s security as well as for that of Israel,” said Menendez. “Any deal, to be a good deal, has to be built on more than monitoring a one-year [nuclear] breakout capacity. If a year is not enough time for us to do anything other than to exercise a military response, it is not a good deal.”

Menendez said that when the nuclear talks with Iran started, “we were told that [Iran’s] plutonium reactor would be destroyed… and [the] Fordow [underground uranium enrichment facility] was to be dismantled.” Yet according to the framework nuclear deal that was reached in April, he said, “That’s not going to happen. The structure remains.” Menendez warned that “in so many dimensions, we have moved in Iran’s direction… much of the their [nuclear] infrastructure will likely stay in place. If Iran remains a threshold nuclear power for 10 years in exchange for relief of sanctions, we have gone too far towards Iran’s position.”

The senator said that the nuclear deal, as the framework currently proposes, “leaves Iran with the ability to continue to advance its nuclear capability, remaining able to use its highly sophisticated centrifuges and reduce the breakout time” to a nuclear weapon.

“The ability to have ‘anytime inspections’ [of Iran’s nuclear program] is not clearly stated in the framework,” Menendez said. The framework, instead, outlines that inspections are a committee-style process with multiple countries involved, and there is no guarantee that inspections will be allowed on demand.

“To have Iran come clean about its military and the dimensions of its nuclear program is almost absent [from the framework]… While I will reserve judgment, I am alarmed by what I see… all the more reason for Congress to have an essential role,” added Menendez.

Prior to the 2014 midterm elections, Menendez served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Last month, he was indicted on federal corruption charges in U.S. District Court, relating to his alleged receipt of favors and gifts. Menendez has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Asked by if he feels the legal action might be political retribution for his sharp policy disagreements with the Obama administration, he responded, “I hope that is not the case.”

In the aftermath of the indictment, Menendez did resign from his position as Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and was replaced by U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). He said the change in leadership has not affected the political dynamic regarding the much-debate Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, and that he remains in close contact on the bill with both its co-author, Corker, and Cardin.

This is not the Menendez’s first experience with a uniquely timed investigation. In September 2006, just a few weeks before that year’s U.S. Senate election in New Jersey, the office of the U.S. District Attorney, then held by Republican Chris Christie (now New Jersey’s governor), began a probe of a property rental deal made by Menendez with the North Hudson Community Action Group. Some Democrats criticized the investigation—particularly its timing and the news leaks that accompanied it—as being politically motivated. Menendez was vindicated, as the case was eventually closed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which presents parameters for Congressional review of any deal with Iran, was initially passed in a unanimous 19-0 Foreign Relations Committee vote. Obama vowed to veto the original version of the bill, but he is expected to approve the proposal’s latest iteration—which cut the duration of Congress’s period to review a deal from 60 days to 30 days—if it is not further amended.

“My aspiration,” said Menendez, “is to have the bill passed unanimously [in a full Senate vote], as it was in the Foreign Relations Committee.”

But that lofty aspiration—or even enough bipartisan support to give the bill 67 affirmative votes among the 100-member Senate, which would allow it to override a presidential veto—is being threatened by Congressional acrimony.

Since the bill was advanced from the Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has proposed seven amendments, including one that demands that Iran acknowledge Israel’s “right to exist” and another requiring the release of all American prisoners held in Iran. An amendment submitted by U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) and Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) demands a vote of approval in both houses of Congress before any nuclear deal can be affirmed. Both Rubio and Cruz are running for president in 2016. Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-Wis.) proposal that a final deal be submitted as a treaty requiring Senate approval was recently defeated on the Senate floor, 57-39.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called the Corker-Menendez bill “too important” to be used as a pawn “in anyone’s political game.” U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) warned that “anybody that monkeys with this bill is going to run into a buzz saw.”

“I want to try to get a process that we can approve a good deal or kill a bad one,” Graham added, urging his cohorts not to “destroy what I think is one of the most important pieces of legislation that I’ll ever deal with.”

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  • Nat

    What we’re going to get out of the Iran negotiations will satisfy both parties doing the negotiations. Iran wnats a deal that will remove sanctions without posing any particular barriers to its attaining nuclear weapons. Obama wants to to able to claim that he could get a nuclear deal with Iran while his predecessor could not. To get there, he is prepared to concede on everything, making the deal to which he will agree the worst possible deal imagineable.

    Meanwhile, the Iranians have a better strategy than sending a nuclear weapon into New York harbor: an electromagnetic pulse attack that will disable anything and everything in North America that uses electronics in any way. It is likely that 90% of all Americans and Canadians will die as a result of such an attack (and it would require only two warheads), and Iran will have achieved “Death to America”, with the assistance of our president.

  • Marvin Sonne

    Congressional involvement is absolutely necessary to be sure the administration doesn’t produce an agreement with Iran that really doesn’t prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability. The safety in the Middle East and the rest of the world is at stake.


  • Paul Caplan

    It is astonishing that so few Americans consider a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to their homeland.
    They should remember that millions of Iranians will remain hell-bent on devastating the Great Satan. If they were to detonate a nuclear weapon anywhere near Staten Island, they will obliterate the whole of Manhattan, Wall Street and the Banks.

    The America economy would come to a shuddering halt, generating global depression and misery that could last for centuries.

    If Obama succeeds in imposing this evil agreement, then Americans would have to inspect every vessel and container, large or small, anywhere near New York city, for decades or even centuries. Any one of them could contain the frightful instrument of destruction.

    The Jewish People need to understand that America is paralyzed by the evil in the White House, and cannot deal with this fateful matter.

    It falls to Israel, but do they understand this? Do they understand that they alone must destroy the horror that threatens civilization? Do they have the moral fiber? Are they truly America’s ally? Do they hear the silent cry of a billion decent Muslims.

    If we Jews, both in Israel and the diaspora, fail in this matter, and if the worst should happen, the rage of humankind will descend upon us. It will be the end of us, and deservedly so. But if we act faithfully, the rewards will be enormous.

  • ben kramer

    Menendez is nothing but a AIPAC lacky. Cant wait for him to be convicted.

    • robert sklar

      Are you suggesting that the administration’s acceptance of a nuclear Iran after 10 years is a good thing? or Iran has no ambitions for a nuclear bomb? What is the basis of your statement?