On Tuesday, Senator Bob Menendez became the second Democratic U.S. senator to come out against the Iran nuclear deal.
Speaking at Seton Hall University, the New Jersey senator said, “While I have many specific concerns about this agreement, my overarching concern is that it requires no dismantling of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and only mothballs that infrastructure for 10 years. This deal grants Iran permanent sanctions relief in exchange for only temporary — temporary — limitations on its nuclear program — not a rolling-back, not dismantlement, but temporary limitations.”
Mr. Menendez promised to vote against the agreement, and to vote to override the president’s promised veto.
With blanket Republican opposition to the accord, there are now 56 votes in the Senate to override, short of the 66 needed.
Twenty-three Democratic senators have announced their support for their accord — two of them, Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, both of Rhode Island, on Tuesday. The administration will need 34 votes to sustain a veto.
That leaves 21 unannounced.
One of the most prominent of those is New Jersey’s other senator, Cory Booker.
Earlier this month, speaking in a conference call with Jewish communal activists, Mr. Booker described the decision as “one of the most challenging moments in my senatorial career,” according to a participant in the call.
On Tuesday, Mr. Booker’s decision was the subject of a full page advertisement in the New York Times, paid for by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Mr. Booker’s long-time mentor in things Jewish, along with Norpac and the Zionist Organization of America.
“Senator Booker, at this grave moment we implore you to act with courage and vote to kill the catastrophic deal with Iran. Before Iranian nukes kill millions of Americans,” the ad concluded.
Last week, the board of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey came out against the deal, and urged the community to call Mr. Booker and other political figures and implore them to oppose the deal.
“This Iran deal threatens the mission of our Federation, which is to ensure the continuity of the Jewish people, support a secure State of Israel, care for Jews in need here and abroad, and mobilize the community on issues of concern,” said the statement by the board.
“In making this decision we understand, respect, and appreciate that members of northern New Jersey’s Jewish community hold a wide array of views on this agreement. In light of Iran’s abhorrent conduct on the international stage, it is impossible for the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey to stand silent on any agreement that will allow Iran to continue its destabilizing actions,” it continued.
In his Seton Hall address, Mr. Menendez said that contrary to claims by the administration and other deal supporters, “there is a pathway to a better deal.”
He proposed that Congress disapprove of the agreement, but authorize the continuation of negotiations.
“I’m even willing to consider authorizing a sweetener — a one-time release of a predetermined amount of funds — as a good-faith down payment on the negotiations,” he said.
The further negotiations should include the following:
• “Permanent international arrangement with Iran for access to suspect sites.”
• Banning centrifuge R&D for the duration of the agreement “to ensure that Iran won’t have the capacity to quickly break out.”
• Closing the Fordow enrichment facility.
• “The full resolution of the ‘possible military dimensions’ of Iran’s program.”
• Extending the agreement to at least 20 years.
• Agreements with the other parties to the negotiations about what penalties would be imposed for small violations of the agreement short of full re-imposition of sanctions.
At the same time, Mr. Menendez said, “The President should unequivocally affirm and Congress should formally endorse a Declaration of U.S. Policy that we will use all means necessary to prevent Iran from producing enough enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb, as well as building or buying one, both during and after any agreement. We should authorize now the means for Israel to address the Iranian threat on their own in the event that Iran accelerates its program and to counter Iranian perceptions that our own threat to use force is not credible. And we should make it absolutely clear that we want a deal, but we want the right deal — and that a deal that does nothing more than delay the inevitable isn’t a deal we will make.
“We must send a message to Iran that neither their regional behavior nor nuclear ambitions are permissible. If we push back regionally, they will be less likely to test the limits of our tolerance towards any violation of a nuclear agreement,” he said.