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Richard D.
Democrat IL

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  • Iran

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2016-07-14

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    DURBIN. Mr. President, this month marks the 1-year anniversary of the nuclear deal reached between a number of world powers and Iran.

    Let's take a moment to step back and recall where we were when President Obama took office.

    Our intelligence community assessed that until 2003, Iran was working toward a nuclear bomb.

    The reckless war in Iraq further empowered Iran. The country's hardliners moved forward at great speed building suspicious nuclear infrastructure. These efforts produced large and unsettling quantities of highly enriched uranium that could have been used for a nuclear weapon.

    Such a weapon in the hands of the Iranian regime would have been an unacceptable risk to the region, to Israel, and to the world.

    This is the mess President Obama inherited when he came to office; yet he pledged that Iran would not obtain a nuclear bomb on his watch.

    And that is exactly what he did.

    He negotiated a comprehensive deal in which Iran pledged to the world not to build a nuclear bomb and agreed to stringent inspections and terms to ensure that Iran keeps that pledge.

    And this historic agreement was accomplished without drawing the United States into another war in the Middle East.

    You see, despite all the naysayers and efforts to undermine this deal--including an unprecedented letter signed by most in the majority party to the [[Page S5139]] hardline Iranian Supreme Leader that aimed to undermine our own President's efforts to negotiate a deal--the agreement is working.

    As the International Atomic Energy Agency has documented, Iran has shipped more than 8.5 tons, or 98 percent of its stockpile, of enriched uranium to Russia--enriched uranium that no longer poses a threat for use in a nuclear weapon; disabled more than 12,000 centrifuges used to enrich uranium; poured concrete into the core of a reactor at Arak designed to produce plutonium which can also be used to produce a nuclear weapon; removed all nuclear material from its once-secret nuclear facility at Fordow; and allowed comprehensive ongoing inspection by the IAEA to make sure Iran doesn't cheat.

    So, instead of a runaway effort to create the fuel and infrastructure needed to build a nuclear bomb within a few months, Iran's ability to build a nuclear weapon is dramatically disabled.

    Its breakout time is at least a year--and any effort to do so would almost certainly be caught quickly by the international community.

    And equally important, a breach would make any military action against Iran that much easier for those in the international community to get behind.

    As President Obama said earlier this year, the deal effectively ``cut off every single path Iran could have used to build a bomb.'' In fact, former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon under Prime Minister Netanyahu and harsh critic of diplomacy with Iran recently said that Iran's nuclear program, ``has been frozen in light of the deal signed by the world powers and does not constitute an immediate, existential threat for Israel.'' When the nuclear deal was reached last year, I came early to the floor to announce my strong support for this agreement.

    I noted that strong countries negotiate with their adversaries and have done so for generations, regardless of who was in the White House at the time, and agreements reached from talking with our enemies have had tremendous benefits to our national security.

    The deal with Iran is no different.

    Now, I know opponents of the deal, who have spent much of the last year looking for ways to undermine it despite its success, will justify further such efforts by saying Iran's other behavior is problematic.

    Well, it is. It was before the nuclear agreement, and it continues to be, whether in Syria or Gaza or Yemen.

    Iran continues to repress its own citizens internally, brazenly trying to keep reformers off Iranian election ballots and locking up those who peacefully urge greater freedoms.

    But it does those actions without a nuclear weapon.

    You see, just as President Kennedy negotiated with the Soviets when they were threatening possible nuclear war with missiles in Cuba or just as President Nixon began to establish ties with China while it was supplying weapons to the North Koreans who were fighting American soldiers or just as President Reagan negotiated with the Soviet Union even though it was occupying Eastern Europe and fomenting violent revolutions around the world, there are times when such agreements serve our national interests and make the world a somewhat safer place.

    This deal with Iran was never about all its genuinely troubling behavior in the region. It was about ending Iran's ability to rapidly or easily make a nuclear bomb.

    And that is what it did.

    I fully support ongoing efforts to address Iran's ballistic missile program, to halt its support for extremist groups in the region, to forcefully push back on its threats to Israel and other allies in the region.

    But these efforts shouldn't be straw men to undermine the nuclear agreement.

    And addressing these issues will be far easier without Iran having a nuclear umbrella.

    There have been so many decades of mistrust between the United States and Iran.

    I myself cannot forget what happened in 1979 when our embassy was seized and more than 60 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. There were mock executions and other inhumane acts. Anyone who is familiar with this story knows the pain these people and their families suffered.

    And no one can forget the horrible threats made by some Iranian leaders against the Israeli people or denials of the Holocaust.

    Israel has genuine security concerns about Iran. So do I.

    But at the end of the day, I believe this agreement is the best way to take one of those concerns--an Iranian nuclear bomb--off the table.

    It won't change Iranian behavior overnight, but in the long term, it also has the potential to empower the Iranian moderates--those who want a more open and internationally respected country.

    So I want to thank this President and so many of my colleagues here in the Senate who defended this agreement. Quite simply, the dismantling of the Iranian nuclear threat is a remarkable historical achievement.


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