King Announces Support for Iran Nuclear Deal

You can watch Senator King’s remarks HERE

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In remarks delivered on the Senate floor this afternoon, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, announced his support for the nuclear agreement reached by the United States, our P5+1 partners, the European Union, and Iran to limit Iran’s nuclear program.

“There is no certainty when it comes to this question. There are risks in either direction, and credible arguments can be made on both sides. But in the end, I have concluded that the terms of this agreement are preferable to the alternatives and that it would be in the best interest of the United States to join our partners in approving it,” Senator King said in his remarks. “I will remain deeply engaged in this issue in the weeks and months ahead because this process does not end today. If this deal moves forward, it will fall to future Presidents and future Congresses to oversee it and make it work. We owe the American people our best judgment, and it is my belief that this agreement, if implemented effectively and in conjunction with the other measures we must take to strengthen its implementation, will serve our nation, the region, and the world.

Senator King’s full remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:

I have never faced a more difficult decision than the vote on the Iran nuclear weapons agreement now scheduled for mid-September. The stakes could not be higher, the issues more complex, and the risks more difficult to calculate.

In approaching this decision, I have taken a two-pronged path – learn everything I can about the agreement itself, and then analyze the alternatives. This second step is critically important, particularly in this case. No negotiated agreement is perfect, but often, an imperfect agreement is preferable to no deal at all, when compared to the likely alternatives.

Starting with a close reading of the agreement, and following hearings, classified sessions, meetings with experts from inside and outside the Administration, and ambassadors, as well as discussions with my colleagues, here’s where I have come out: first, if implemented effectively, the agreement will prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapon for at least 15 years and probably longer; second, at the end of that 15 years, if we take the right steps, we will have the same options we have today if Iran moves to build a bomb; and third, the current alternatives if the deal is rejected are either unrealistic or downright dangerous.

And so, based upon what we know now, I intend to vote for the agreement. Here’s why –

The deal itself is strong and explicit in terms of the burdens it places upon Iran’s nuclear program for the first fifteen years -- 98% reduction in their current stockpile of enriched uranium, strict numerical limits on further enrichment, the effective dismantlement of their plutonium reactor, and dismantlement of two-thirds of their current fleet of enrichment centrifuges.

Many have argued that after fifteen years Iran will become a nuclear threshold state, which is certainly a possibility we need to be prepared to address. But, Mr President, they are a threshold state now.

If they decided to build a bomb today, they could get there in two to three months.  After the rollbacks required by this agreement are in place, however, this period is extended to at least one year and we would know almost immediately if they were on this track.

The inspection and verification provisions, to be monitored and enforced by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), coupled with the tools and capabilities of the U.S. intelligence agencies and those of our international partners – which is a tremendously important part of the verification regime – provide us with a high level of confidence that any attempt by Iran to cheat on its enrichment program will be detected.  IAEA inspections at known nuclear sites are, indeed, anytime, anywhere, and include Iran’s entire uranium and equipment supply chains. While it’s true that inspections at other sites could be delayed for up to 24 days from when the IAEA requests access and that covert work on non-nuclear components could be harder to detect, it’s in the nature of uranium that traces can be detected long after 24 days, no matter how much they try to clean it up. And in the end, to build a bomb, there has to be nuclear material.

But what about after fifteen years when most of the restrictions on enrichment are lifted?  If the Iranians try to breakout at that point, we will have the same options we have today—including the re-imposition of sanctions or a military strike. In other words, we would be in a similar place to where we are now, but will have achieved 15 years of a nuclear weapon-free Iran.

If Iran violates the terms of the agreement, at that point, re-imposing effective international sanctions should have stronger international support, because they would be rejecting the agreement, not us.

I can’t argue that the deal is perfect. For example, I would prefer that the 15 year limits were extended to 20 or 25 years and that the UN arms embargoes would remain indefinitely.  In fact, I think Congress can and should have a role to play in seeking to mitigate some of the principle weaknesses of the agreement, such as reassuring our regional allies and partners, and further strengthening our ability to ensure Iran never becomes a nuclear weapons state. But then we get to the central question—if we reject the agreement for this or some other reason, what is the alternative? What happens next?

The usual answer from opponents is vague references to re-imposing or strengthening the sanctions to bring Iran back to the table to get a better deal. The problem with this is that those countries which have joined in the sanctions, and helped considerably to make them more effective, think the deal is acceptable—and our unilateral rejection would almost certainly lead to the sanctions eroding rather than getting stronger. Then we could have the worst of both worlds—Iran unfettered from the terms of the agreement and subject to a weaker sanctions regime. It’s important to remember that this deal is not between just the U.S. and Iran, but instead involves five other major world powers.

Another principal option, of course, is a military strike, which the experts estimate would only set the Iranian nuclear program back a few years – and thus could require frequent follow on strikes to prevent the reconstitution of Iran’s nuclear facilities, but at an unpredictable and incalculable cost.

Now, it’s true that as a result of Iran’s acceptance of the limitations in the agreement, they get relief from the nuclear weapons sanctions and the release of approximately $50 billion of restricted foreign assets that they will be able to spend—but only after they comply with the limitations.

Let me repeat: there is no sanctions relief until Iran implements and the IAEA verifies that its nuclear commitments have been met.

To get that relief was why they entered into the negotiations in the first place—and to get them into negotiations is why we led the imposition of the nuclear weapons sanctions in the first place.

Sanctions relief in exchange for the acceptance of limitations on their nuclear program is the essence of the deal. Neither the sanctions nor the negotiations were ever about Iran foreswearing terrorism or recognizing Israel or releasing hostages, no matter how desirable we might find those ends, and to try to add them now or argue that the deal falls short because they aren’t included is simply unrealistic. The United States, along with our allies and partners, must redouble our efforts outside of the nuclear agreement to address these issues and Iran’s other malign activities. It is also important to reiterate that all U.S. sanctions on Iran related to terrorism and human rights will remain in place.

When President Kennedy was negotiating the removal of the Soviet missiles from Cuba, he did not throw in that Cuba had to replace Castro or the Soviets foreswear their dangerous enmity to the west (“We will bury you” was their memorable phrase); he simply wanted to get those missiles out, not settle all the issues of the Cold War. And so it is with this deal; the idea is to constrain Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons, not settle all the issues of the Middle East.

There is one thing worse than a rogue Iran seeking to make trouble for its neighbors (and us)—and that’s a rogue Iran seeking to make trouble for its neighbors (and us) armed with nuclear weapons.

Finally, of equal importance as the terms of the nuclear agreement, is ensuring that it is effectively implemented. There is a real risk that as time wears on the attention of the international community on this issue will diminish. It will be vital for the United States, across successive administrations, to maintain focus on implementing and enforcing the terms of the agreement. Congress will have a crucial role to play both in the oversight of the deal’s implementation, in making certain that the IAEA and our intelligence agencies have the resources they need to monitor compliance, and in more broadly ensuring that all of our options to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon remain viable if the agreement collapses.

I’ve negotiated lots of contracts over the years and one side or the other rarely “wins”; the idea is that all sides get something that they want or need, and in the end that’s what’s happened here—and, if the deal is implemented properly I believe it will accomplish our national security objectives while preserving or improving all of our existing options to ensure that Iran never develops a nuclear weapon.

Mr. President, there is no certainty when it comes to this question. There are risks in either direction, and credible arguments can be made on both sides. But in the end, I have concluded that the terms of this agreement are preferable to the alternatives and that it would be in the best interest of the United States to join our partners in approving it.

I will remain deeply engaged in this issue in the weeks and months ahead because this process does not end today. If this deal moves forward, it will fall to future Presidents and future Congresses to oversee it and make it work. We owe the American people our best judgment, and it is my belief that this agreement, if implemented effectively and in conjunction with the other measures we must take to strengthen its implementation, will serve our nation, the region, and the world. 

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