Hatch on Obama’s Iran Agreement: ‘This Deal Will Bring Us Closer to War’

Senate leaders this week debated President Obama’s controversial proposed nuclear deal with Iran, suspending all other business and hearings. 

Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the senior Republican, spoke against the deal from the Senate floor: “I examined the Obama administration’s proposed agreement hopeful—if skeptical—that I could support it. Regrettably, after much study I have concluded that this is a catastrophically bad deal that I must strongly oppose.”

Hatch’s opposition centered on the deal’s failure to foreclose the Iranian regime’s nuclear capabilities. “After only ten years, Iran’s breakout time to rush for a nuclear weapon drops 'almost down to zero,' as President Obama himself admitted,” Hatch said. The Senator also cited shortcomings in how inspections will be conducted as well as whether or not independent inspections will even occur.

Furthermore, Hatch also expressed concern about the sanctions relief Iran would receive. Citing an estimated $150 billion in frozen Iranian assets, Hatch argued: “If history is any guide, we should expect the regime to use sanctions relief to pursue its dangerous aims, like supporting its terrorist proxies, purchasing sophisticated weapons systems to ward off a future military strike, and shoring up the political and financial standing of the most radical elements of the Iranian regime.”

Hatch concluded by expressing his desire for an outcome that preserves the security of the United States and its allies: "It is not a cavalier attitude about war that leads me to oppose this deal; it is my unwavering judgment that this deal makes war much more likely that leads me to oppose it." 

The full speech, as prepared for delivery, is below.

Mr.  President, I have been a member of this body for nearly four decades. During that time, I have had the honor of participating in numerous debates that shaped the course of our future, but I can think of none more important than the one in which we are now engaged.

The Iranian regime is one of our most dangerous foes.

It has declared the United States to be the Great Satan.

It has repeatedly proclaimed its intent to wipe Israel off the map;

It has perpetrated violence against American servicemen and civilians alike.

It has sown conflict across the most volatile region of the world.

And it has oppressed its people by some of the most ghastly methods imaginable. Indeed, Mr.  President, we should remember throughout this debate that our quarrel is not with the Iranian people. The Iranian people are our friends, and we should remember throughout their plight and their desire for a cooperative relationship with the United States and the rest of the world. It is the dictatorial, fanatical regime that seeks to build and even use nuclear weapons, to destabilize the entire region, and to kill Americans and Israelis.

Given the threat posed by this rogue regime, preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability is absolutely critical. It is a goal shared across party lines as well as amongst many of our friends and allies abroad. All of us here prefer to prevent Iran from acquiring this capability by diplomatic means if possible, rather than by armed conflict.

In light of this shared desire to resolve the Iranian threat without a war, I examined the Obama administration’s proposed agreement hopeful—if skeptical—that I could support the deal. Nevertheless, the duty incumbent upon us as Senators is not to accept or reject this deal based on knee-jerk reactions or blind partisan loyalty, but rather to determine our stances based on thorough examination and reasoned judgment. Regrettably, after much study I have concluded that this is a catastrophically bad deal that I must strongly oppose.

Now, at the outset I should note that the media is reporting that President Obama has gathered the votes to support his Iran deal. In reality, he has done no such thing. Were this a treaty, it would fall well short of the necessary two-thirds requirements. It won’t—and it can’t—even muster a majority in either the House or Senate. There is nothing bipartisan about support for this deal; only the opposition is bipartisan. And the deal lacks the most important kind of support—that of the American people. A strong majority of Americans oppose this deal, and they’re right to do so.

Far from blocking the Iranian regime’s path to nuclear weapons capability, this agreement actually secures what Mark Dubowitz, the Executive Director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, calls a “patient pathway” to nuclear weapons capability. Consider the timeline. From day one, the Iranian regime will be allowed to enrich uranium using thousands of centrifuges and to conduct nuclear research and development. After eight years, Iran will be allowed to begin building hundreds of advanced new centrifuges annually and will be allowed to expand its ballistic missile program. After fifteen years Iran will be permitted to:

Stockpile significant quantities of enriched uranium;

Use advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium on an industrial scale;

And build heavy water reactors according to the State Department’s own fact sheet.

And after only ten years, Iran’s breakout time to rush for a nuclear weapon drops “almost down to zero,” as President Obama himself admitted.

Mr. President, in the words of former Deputy National Security Advisor Juan Zarate, this deal “stalls, [then] enables, and then validates an Iranian nuclear program.”  All that the Iranian regime has to do is abide by the terms of the agreement to achieve threshold nuclear weapons status with an expanded infrastructure for the production of nuclear material and a viable means of delivering a nuclear weapon to targets as far away as the United States.

Moreover, the deal’s means of ensuring and verifying the Iranian regime’s compliance with these temporary limits on its nuclear program are, frankly, pathetic. Our only peaceful means of recourse under the deal, the so-called snapback mechanism, involves an incredibly cumbersome process.

It allows the Iranian regime to delay international inspections for up to 24 days without recourse; a critical gap that experts such as former International Atomic Energy Agency Deputy Director-General for Safeguards Olli Heinonen and former National Nuclear Security Administration Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Non-proliferation William Tobey assert could allow Iran to hide evidence of illicit nuclear activities.

Other parties’ intransigence could also drag out the snapback mechanism more than two months before re-imposing U.N. sanctions—approximately the same as Iran’s current breakout time, according to President Obama.

Furthermore, the deal only makes the snapback mechanism available for instances of “significant non-performance,” leaving no mechanism to respond to the kind of incremental cheating that has characterized the Iranian nuclear program thus far.

And perhaps most troublingly, it remains unclear whether weapons inspectors will even have access to all Iranian nuclear facilities in the first place. Senior officials of the Iranian regime have repeatedly claimed that the deal does not allow access to military sites. The agreement’s language appears to have been left deliberately vague on this point—hardly an encouraging development. Moreover, press accounts of an IAEA side deal with Iran indicate that the international watchdog has already agreed to rely on the Iranian regime to conduct its own inspections of the Parchin weapons testing site, providing the IAEA with only photographs, videos, and environmental samples. Former IAEA Deputy Director-General Heinonen may have put it best when he observed:

“If the reporting is accurate, these procedures appear to be risky, departing significantly from well-established and proven safeguards practices. At a broader level, if verification standards have been diluted for Parchin or elsewhere and limits imposed, the ramification is significant as it will affect the IAEA’s ability to draw definitive conclusions with the requisite level of assurances and without undue hampering of the verification process.”

Regarding these troubling reports, I have a number of outstanding questions and concerns that have only been amplified by the Obama administration’s steadfast refusal to share the text of the agreement with Congress. This intransigence amounts to an evasion of the spirit and possibly the text of the bipartisan Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act—a development that rightfully sows doubt and concern about what else the Obama administration might be hiding.

In light of these incredible concessions to the Iranian regime, I am also deeply troubled by the great benefits the Iranian regime stands to enjoy from this deal. To use the succinct words of one scholar, “President Obama is agreeing to dismantle the sanctions regime permanently.  In return, Tehran is agreeing to slow the development of its nuclear program temporarily.” 

The current sanctions regime has imposed heavy costs on the Iranian economy:

Oil exports have dropped by 60 percent;

The inflation rate has risen to 40 percent;

And foreign companies—deterred by harsh penalties—have avoided investing in Iran, thereby isolating Iran from the global economy.

Along with the threat of military action, these sanctions played a critical role in bringing the Iranian regime to the negotiating table, and we should thus be very careful about sacrificing this leverage.

Foolishly, in exchange for these minimal, temporary concessions, the Iranian regime stands to reap enormous rewards in sanctions relief. According to figures cited by President Obama, the Iranian regime will regain control of more than $150 billion dollars currently frozen in the world’s financial institutions. Sanctions relief will also allow an influx of international businesses into Iran, bringing about a stronger economy and greater revenue for the Tehran regime.

Where should we expect this money to be spent?

Will it go to the long-suffering Iranian people, who are the victims of this regime? 

A people who have long contributed to the advancement of civilization and good of mankind?

A people whose true spirit has been continually repressed for almost 40 years?  

A people that have paid a high price because of the radical fundamentalism of their leaders? 

A people who look to us for strength in the defense of our ideals, not capitulation to this heinous regime?

Unfortunately, we cannot expect such an outcome. If history is any guide, we should expect the Iranian regime to use sanctions relief to pursue its dangerous aims, including:

To support its terrorist proxies that represent a dire threat to the stability of the region, such as Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis [HOO-tees] in Yemen, and the murderous Assad regime in Syria;

To encourage the “swarming of [foreign] businesses to Iran,” which the Iranian Foreign Minister believes will make it “impossible to reconstruct” broad international sanctions;

To take advantage of the lifting of the U.N. arms embargo after five years to purchase sophisticated weapons systems like the Russian S-300 air defense system, which would make American or Israeli military action against the Iranian nuclear program even more difficult than it already would be;

And to shore up the political and financial standing of the most radical elements of the Iranian regime, reducing the likelihood of internal reform and a more constructive Iranian foreign policy.

Mr.  President, if the Iranian regime suddenly becomes flush with cash, what incentive will it have to change priorities 15 years from now?

Doesn’t this deal reward what the Obama administration called “bad behavior” in one of the most astonishing understatements that I have ever heard?

And in the words of one expert, “when in the course of human history did getting $100 billion at the stroke of a pen ever convince anyone that they have been wrong all along?”

For a deal built on the unfounded hope that the Iranian regime will change its ways, I see very little reason to expect success. And for a deal that would supposedly reinforce the position of Iranian moderates and bring relief to the Iranian people, I see only the prospect of strengthening the hand of the hard-liners and of sanctions relief diverted for more violent misadventures, rather than for the benefit of the Iranian people.

Reflecting on this spectacularly bad deal, I can only conclude that Obama administration officials proved to be weak negotiators because of absolute desperation for a deal—almost any deal. These massive concessions to the Iranian regime for so little in return were produced by this administration’s knee-jerk aversion to the prospect of using military force, a preoccupation demonstrated by the constant rhetoric that we hear from the White House that the only alternatives to this deal is war.

Mr.  President, that claim is patently false. We can and should go back to the negotiating table. While reassembling the sanctions coalition that this agreement throws away will not be easy and may not even be fully possible, a nation as strong as ours still has plenty of tools at our disposal. Our unparalleled economic and military might give us significant leverage to get a better deal, and we should not be misled by overly simplistic rhetoric to conclude otherwise.

War is never a happy matter to contemplate, especially from a position of responsibility such as the United States Senate. In this body, we are saddled all too often with the sorts of decisions in which real people’s lives hang in the balance:

Those of our friends and neighbors;

Our fellow countrymen;

Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines;

And even those in faraway and distant places that look to America as a guardian of freedom and peace, what Abraham Lincoln called the last, best hope of Earth.

Mr.  President, none of us relish the prospect of war, especially in an age in which our weapons have a power almost too terrible to contemplate. In particular, neither I nor any of my colleagues seek a war with Iran. As I said before, the Iranian people are not our enemies. They are our friends. No people has paid a higher price for the regime’s record of terrorism, mass murder, corruption, and duplicity than the Iranians. The prospect of inflicting collateral damage on our long-suffering friends counsels further against any course of action that leads to war.

It is not a cavalier attitude about war that leads me to oppose this deal; it is my unwavering judgment that this deal makes war much more likely that leads me to oppose it. Let there be no doubt:

A deal that paves, rather than precludes, Iran’s path to nuclear weapons capability makes war more likely;

A deal that makes the Iranian regime more confident of its ability to protect its nuclear program from international pressure and military action makes war more likely;

A deal that funnels tens of billions of dollars to terrorists bent on destabilizing the Middle East makes war more likely;

A deal that provokes a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region on the globe makes war more likely;

A deal that surrounds Israel not only with a nuclear Iran, but also eventually with numerous other regimes with nuclear weapons capability and a genocidal attitude toward the Jewish State makes war more likely;

And a deal that puts the Iranian regime and its terrorist allies one turn of a screwdriver away from a nuclear weapon and a means of delivering it across the oceans makes war more likely.

War may come, Mr.  President, but it is not inevitable. As members of the world’s greatest deliberative body, it is our duty to discern the wisest course of action that preserves the security of the United States and our allies—that reduces the risk of war, but does not let the strong desire for peace we all share cloud our judgment about how we best preserve that peace. In this solemn debate, it is my hope that the voice of reason will have the power to change minds and overcome the pressures of our politics that so often color our debates.

I am encouraged in my hope by the fact that almost every member to come out in support of this deal has noted its significant flaws, while the opposition to it has been unambiguous, strong, and bipartisan. In particular, I want to pay tribute to four of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle who have bucked significant political pressure to vote their consciences against this bad deal.

Mr.  President, we still have a chance to change course. All that is required is the bravery and good judgment to lead our nation and the world to an agreement that can actually preserve the long-term peace. I urge all of my colleagues to join me in opposing this disastrous deal and supporting a better way forward.