Washington, DC - Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today voted to support the Iran nuclear agreement and against the resolution of disapproval. Prior to the vote, Bennet addressed his colleagues on the Senate floor.
Below are Bennet's remarks as prepared for delivery:
I'd like to speak on the agreement the P5+1 powers reached on Iran's nuclear program.
I was an early cosponsor of the bill that gave Congress an opportunity to evaluate the agreement.
Because of that legislation, we've had extensive discussion and debate.
This chamber has a history of voting on critical national security issues at a 60 vote threshold, and I would have preferred an up or down vote on the merits.
But, as too often happens, politics have prevailed, and this will likely be the only vote we'll have on this agreement. So, this vote serves as the vote on the substance.
In 2003, Iran was operating approximately 164 centrifuges, and had virtually no enriched uranium. By 2009, when the current administration took office, Iran had between 4,000 and 5,000 centrifuges installed.
Over the next few years, Congress passed increasingly tough sanctions that the administration, to its credit, set out to implement. As a member of the banking committee in 2010, I helped write and pass those sanctions.
By 2013, even in the grasp of the toughest international sanctions regime, Iran's nuclear program had raced forward.
The country had 19,000 centrifuges installed, 10 bombs worth of enriched uranium, and 2 to 3 months breakout time to a bomb.
The harsh reality is that, today, Iran stands on the threshold of a nuclear weapon.
So we have to weigh the agreement against this set of facts.
Our goal throughout this process has been clear: to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Like many members of this chamber, I've undertaken an exhaustive review of the agreement and a lengthy consultation process.
This included briefings from our own national security and intelligence experts; international verification experts; regional experts; former Israeli military and intelligence officials; and the P5+1 ambassadors as well as Israel's Ambassador to the United States.
My conclusion is that the JCPOA is more likely to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon than the plausible alternatives.
For that reason, I'll vote to support the agreement.
It's no surprise to me that there are sincere, heartfelt differences of opinion about the merits of this deal.
I have deep concerns about what the shape of Iran's nuclear program could look like beyond the 15 year horizon.
But I also believe that implementation of this agreement is the best of bad options.
If Congress rejects this agreement, Iran will receive billions of dollars of sanctions relief and there will be no oversight of its nuclear program.
That is an unacceptable result.
Some have argued that the United States could reject this agreement in favor of returning to the negotiating table.
But this logic only holds if the international coalition holds. And everything I heard this summer tells me that won't happen.
While this agreement has flaws, it is clearly better than the alternatives.
The agreement is the best option for preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and it maintains all of our options to respond to a move by Iran to break out to a bomb.
The agreement doesn't eliminate the deep concerns I hold about Iran's horrific acts of terror and its hegemonic pursuits.
But all of Iran's malevolent acts would only be more dangerous if backed by a nuclear weapon.
We must also help our closest ally in the region, the State of Israel, defend itself.
Let me be clear: the survival of the State of Israel is essential to the security of the Jewish people, and, as far as I am concerned, Israel's survival is essential to our humanity.
For these reasons, and for our own security, we cannot allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.
And we must be crystal clear that we will use force to prevent it from doing so.
In fact, we will have more credibility to use force if this agreement is in place.
And we will have more legitimacy when we work to build an international coalition to respond to Iranian cheating.
There are risks to the successful implementation of the agreement, and the President and Congress must now work to make it stronger.
I've worked with others in the Senate to push the Administration toward that goal.
Since the announcement of the agreement, I've also worked with Senator Cardin to develop a legislative package to address the accumulated shortcomings of our policies towards Iran, and to strengthen the agreement.
Among other measures, our legislation will ensure that we track the resources Iran obtains from sanctions relief, and work with our regional partners to counter conventional Iranian threats.
It also invests in our intelligence capabilities and provides Israel deterrence to ensure Iran cannot shield covert systems and facilities, no matter how deeply they are buried.
As we implement this agreement, we must set in place a strategy with our partners to ensure that Iran appreciates the consequences of its violations, for the next 15 years and beyond.
My grandparents, John and Halina Klejman, and my mother, Susanne Klejman, had everyone and everything they knew taken from them in the Holocaust.
Yet, as my grandmother always told me, they were the lucky ones - they had the chance to rebuild their shattered lives in a country that accepted them and let them succeed beyond their wildest dreams.
We live in dangerous times and whether you support the agreement or not, we must develop a cohesive strategy for U.S. policy in the Middle East that addresses the grave security concerns in the region.
Separate from Iran's nuclear program, the region is threatened by war, sectarian violence, a terrible refugee crisis, and acts of barbaric brutality that belong to another century.
We should seize this opportunity to play a constructive role in addressing these threats.
Our young men and women in the Armed Forces have been asked to sacrifice so much.
None of us can have any doubt that, if called upon again, they would rise to any challenge, anywhere in the world.
We honor their courage and spirit of sacrifice by exhausting diplomatic options before we turn to military ones.
This isn't a sign of weakness, but proof of our strength.
And it will help us rally our allies to our side if ultimately we need to turn to military action.
Our primary objectives are to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon, make sure Israel is safe and, if possible, avoid another war in the Middle East.
This agreement represents a flawed, but important step to accomplish those goals.
I yield back.
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