Sen. Cardin: Senate must keep level head during Iran nuclear deal review

Senate review of an Iran deal will focus on inclusion of tools to take action if the Iranian's cheat, because 'we don't trust them,' Sen. Ben Cardin (D) of Maryland told reporters at a Monitor-hosted breakfast Wednesday.

Michael Bonfigli /The Christian Science Monitor
Sen. Ben Cardin, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee speaks at the St. Regis Hotel on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

The Senate Democrat who helped back the White House into submission on congressional review of any Iran deal says that Senate review of a deal – if one is struck – will be a systematic analysis, not an emotional one.

“This is going to be more objective than you think,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D) of Maryland, told reporters at a Monitor-hosted breakfast on Wednesday.

Senator Cardin, who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, explained how he and the committee’s chairman, Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee, would evaluate a final deal. International negotiators face a June 30 deadline to nail down the details of an April 2 framework agreement to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon.

The review that the two men lead in their committee will be “much more based on what is written down, and what it means, than the emotional response of whether this is a good idea or a bad idea,” he said.

Any deal will be judged on whether the international community has the time and ability to prevent Iran from gaining a weapon, and whether it has the tools to take action if the Iranians cheat, because “we don’t trust them,” he said.

Specifically, the senators will be looking at how long it would take Iran to produce a nuclear weapon if it complies with an agreement. “Is it a long enough period of time that if they cheat we can take action to prevent them from becoming a nuclear-weapons state?”

The committee's review will also examine whether an inspection regime is vigorous enough to be able to determine if Iran is cheating. Senators will then have to consider whether there is ample time to take action, and whether “we have the tools available to take such action, including the snap-back of international sanctions, in an effective manner.”

Cardin described June as a month for committee hearings or closed briefings so that members can be “better equipped” to evaluate a potential agreement, but “not in any way to cause any dynamics that impact the negotiations.” He said he would resist that and “make sure it does not happen. I want our negotiators focused on Iran, not on Congress.”

Keeping a lid on "dynamics" will be next to impossible, given the strong views of some committee members, including presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, who is strenuously opposed to any agreement.

It contrasts also with the views of Senator Corker, who at a Monitor breakfast last week said he hoped that congressional involvement would “stiffen the spine” of the administration during negotiations. He criticized Secretary of State John Kerry as someone who appears to want "whatever it takes to do a deal."

In recent weeks, Corker and Cardin worked intensely to craft an Iran bill that would avoid a presidential veto. The bill, which gives Congress the opportunity to reject a deal as it relates to lifting congressional sanctions, passed the Senate 98 to 1 on May 6, and overwhelmingly in the House last week. The president is expected to sign it – though perhaps not in a public ceremony, Cardin commented.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.