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Democratic Senator Blasts Obama Administration for Opposing Iran Sanctions

Bob Menendez: "We shouldn't be leading from behind, we should be leading forward."

2:22 PM, Dec 1, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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In a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill today, New Jersey Democratic senator Bob Menendez blasted the Obama administration for opposing stricter sanctions on Iran:

"At [the Obama administration’s] request, we engaged in an effort to come to a bipartisan agreement that I think is fair and balanced," Senator Menendez said. "And now you come here and vitiate that very agreement. That says to me in the future, when you come to me and you ask me to engage in a good faith effort—you should have said, we want no amendment, not that you don't care for that amendment. Now, having said that, let me just say, everything that you say in your testimony undermines the credibility of your opposition to this amendment. The clock is ticking. The published reports say we have about a year. Now when are we going to start our sanctions regime robustly, six months before the clock has been achieved? Before they get a nuclear weapon?"

Menendez's reaction came in response to the Obama administration's oppostion to stricter sanctions on Iran, which is being strongly supported by Democrats and Republicans alike. 

Menendez's harshest words for the Democratic president? "We shouldn't be leading from behind, we should be leading forward," he said. 

Here's the full transcript:

Senator Menendez: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. You know Secretary I have to be honest with you. I am extremely disappointed. You all didn’t like the original amendment offered, and at the request of the administration we engaged in a good-faith effort to try to create an amendment that would have the maximum effort on Iran’s—certainly on its economy—and a minimum effort on any disruption of the oil markets of the United States. That original amendment had no waivers whatsoever. Maybe we should have allowed that to stand. Maybe we should have allowed that to stand—that’s the vote we’d be having. 

At your request, we engaged in an effort to come to a bipartisan agreement that I think is fair and balanced. And now you come here and vitiate that very agreement. So that says to me in the future that when you come to me and ask me to engage in a good-faith effort, you should have said, we want no amendment, not that you don't care for that amendment. Now, having said that, let me just say, everything that you say in your testimony undermines the credibility of your opposition to this amendment. 

The clock is ticking. Published reports say we have about a year. Whenever you're going to start our sanctions regime robustly, six months before the clock has been achieved? Before they get a nuclear weapon? Now, this amendment was crafted in such a way that gives the President two significant pieces of discretion: number one to determine that there is sufficient supply in the oil market that would not create a disruption—and if he finds that is not the case, then the actions would not go into effect. And secondly, notwithstanding that he might find that—yes, there is enough oil in the market that would not create a disruption—that in fact he has a second opportunity in a national security waiver. So I find it pretty amazing that you all come here and say what you said in response to the chairman. 

Let me just say, I looked at the treasury secretary's letter. Nowhere does he talk about economic disruption to us, very interestingly, I think he would have made that case if in fact there was any such disruption. He actually makes two statements here that I think are pretty redeeming of our amendment. He says number one, congress has been absolutely critical in providing some of the tools that we have used to accomplish the goal of tightening sanctions. Now, but for congress, you wouldn't have had the sanctions, and I have never seen this or any other administration come before the congress and say, please, give me a sanctions regime. 

So you have rebuffed it every step of the way, even though it is the sanctions law that we have given you that has allowed you to seek some limited progress. Secondly, he says, the sales—referring to Iran—the sales of crude oil line the regime's pockets, sustain its human rights abuses and feeds its nuclear ambitions like no other sector of the Iranian economy. Well, then, if that is the fuel that allows Iran’s march to nuclear weapons, then you need to cut off the fuel. And that's exactly what we are focused on doing. Now, I find it amazing when the Europeans are considering doing some of this. Certainly France in particular has been advocating such a measure, in international reports earlier this month when it was revealed that Iran is moving closer to building its own nuclear weapon. The European nations are discussing their own embargo. 

So we basically say to financial institutions, do you want to deal with the $300 billion economy, or do you want to deal with a $14 trillion economy? I think that choice is pretty easy. For them. So I find it pretty outrageous that when the clock is ticking, and when you ask us to engage in a more reasoned effort, and we produce such an effort in a bipartisan basis, that in fact you come here and say what you say. Which really undermines, certainly as it relates to this member, the relationship with me in the future, because you're not going to tell me that please engage with us in an effort to find a more refined solution, and then when we do that, say you don't care for it. It would have been more honest to say, we don't want any amendment whatsoever. 

Now, the fact is, that several major energy traders continue to make prohibited sales of refined petroleum to Iran, and yet our response has been to sanction the front companies, like the royal group, rather than the major figures behind the sales. You have been reluctant to sanction Chinese companies for energy sanctions when there is ample evidence that they are violating our laws, and there is precedence for us sanctioning Chinese companies for nuclear and weapons proliferation concerns. Even though we've given you the tools, you haven't shown us the robust effort when the clock is ticking to use that which we have given you. So that causes us—that's why 80 members of the senate in a time in which it is very difficult to find bipartisan agreement—80 members of the senate have joined in our Iran/North Korea serious sanctions act. 

Because they understand that just as the Iranians move to circumvent the sanctions regime that we have already imposed, and to find ways to achieve loopholes, we understand that we must be a step ahead of them. And that we must close those loopholes, and at the end of the day be able to ensure that our sanctions regime is effective. 

And so, you know, now, had you all embraced that effort, maybe we wouldn't be where we are today, if you had used the sanctions regime you already have to be more robust at the end of the day instead of taking the shell groups, go to the heart of it, we wouldn't be where we are today. 

And if the Europeans are considering an embargo, we shouldn't be leading from behind, we should be leading forward. So I think this amendment that we hopefully vote upon today—it is reasoned, it is balanced, it gives the president discretion, both to determine the oil markets and whether there are sufficient supplies. And look, Libya's coming back on track. We see certainly Iraq producing more. The Saudis have a great ability to produce more. So I find it disconcerting, to say the least, and I don’t really have any questions for you. I just felt that after having vitiated my amendment, I wanted to put the record straight.

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