Just over a week ago, Just Foreign Policy issued a very simple, reasonable demand: that Massachusetts Senator and progressive champion Elizabeth Warren endorse the interim nuclear deal that the Obama Administration and its partners on the UN Security Council have negotiated with Iran.
Some people foolishly claimed that this was not a reasonable demand, either because, they falsely claimed, the deal is not a good deal, or because, they falsely claimed, it was unreasonable to expect Senator Warren to speak out on this issue.
Fortunately, these foolish people have now been uncontrovertibly proven wrong. On December 12, in a hearing of the Senate Banking Committee, Senator Warren endorsed the deal.
What follows is an unofficial transcript, produced by me, of the exchange between Senator Warren and Obama Administration officials in the hearing. You can watch the exchange on C-span here: the exchange begins at 1:20:50 mark.
I expect that Senator Warren’s clear stand on the deal will increase pressure on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take a clear stand on the deal.
Senate Banking Committee
Dec 12, 2013
[Under Secretary of State] Wendy Sherman and [Under Secretary of Treasury] David Cohen testified on ongoing talks with Iran to freeze the country’s nuclear program. Ms. Sherman, the lead US negotiator in the agreement reached between the United States and five other global powers (P5+1), urged Congress not to pass new sanctions on Iran as talks continue on freezing the country’s nuclear program.
(To Chairman Johnson) Thank you Mr. Chairman; (to Ms. Sherman and Mr. Cohen) thank you for being here.
So, America and its allies are committed to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and we are committed to protecting our allies throughout the region, including Israel. This dual-track policy that we are on now, imposing tough sanctions on Iran while engaging them diplomatically, I think reflects this commitment, and that approach has clearly brought Iran to the negotiating table, produced an interim deal. That is a promising first step to achieving our goals in the region.
Of course, the interim deal doesn’t give us everything that we want; that’s the nature of a negotiation, each side has to give a little. But it’s certainly no giveaway to Iran. They made critical concessions, the core existing sanctions on their oil and banking sectors remain fully in force, and all the sanctions relief the deal provides are time-limited and fully reversible.
More importantly, it seems to me, the interim deal is a necessary step in reaching a final deal. So, I’d like your view on that, Under Secretary Sherman: Could the US plausibly hope to get a final agreement that prevents an Iranian nuclear weapons program without an interim deal of this kind?
Ms. Sherman: Thank you very much, Senator. You know, I think Secretary Kerry has said, I have said, and the president of the United States has said, we wish we could have gotten a comprehensive agreement in the first stage. There is no doubt we would all be happier to have a comprehensive agreement. But it simply was not available; it was not possible. And so what we thought was critical, was to get this first step and stop the advance of their nuclear program, to put time on the clock to negotiate that comprehensive agreement. Not too much time on the clock, because we didn’t want them to play games, but enough time, to really see if we could get that negotiation underway and fulfilled.
So in our view, we needed this first step to put that time on the clock. We understand that our very strong ally, partner, Israel tactically believes we should have waited for a comprehensive agreement, that we should have kept sanctioning in the hope that Iran would capitulate, but our concern with that is because it is a culture of resistance, as we were just discussing, that it would take a very long time, and although it might ultimately happen – though it might not – all that while they would be advancing their nuclear program. And since the time for breakout was already short, it would become shorter and shorter, leaving us with very difficult options, and diplomacy fading away.
Senator Warren: Good. And if I could just follow up a little bit here, to be clear – Under Secretary Cohen – the value of the temporary sanctions relief, I take it from all you’ve said, is miniscule in comparison to Iran’s economy, even in its greatly weakened state. Is that correct?
Mr. Cohen: Yes, Senator Warren, the total value of this deal is in the six to seven billion dollar range. That is about 1 percent of Iran’s GDP. It doesn’t come close to closing the budget deficit that Iran faces, which is in the 35 billion dollar range, doesn’t come close to providing the funds necessary for Iran’s foreign exchange needs, which run to 60 to 70 billion dollars a year. So, as I’ve said, it is economically insignificant to Iran. And it’s insignificant in particular because of what remains in place – the banking sanctions, the oil sanctions, the financial sanctions, the fact that their ports are largely cut off – this relief will not improve the economic situation in Iran in any significant way.
Senator Warren: And one last question that I want to ask about this. President Rouhani was elected in part because, unlike his predecessor, he was interested in negotiating with the international community. But he still has to contend with a significant number of hardliners who oppose negotiations. So, Under Secretary Sherman, if Congress passes additional sanctions now – even sanctions that don’t kick in unless the negotiators fail to reach a final agreement in six months – would that make it more difficult or easier for President Rouhani to make a final deal?
Ms. Sherman: I think there is no doubt that if, in fact, sanctions were passed, that the hardliners would say, see, you can’t deal with the United States, you can’t deal with the P5+1; there is no good faith.
And although that might indeed tank the agreement, as I’ve said, our greater concern is keeping the P5+1 and the international coalition together for the enforcement of the sanctions that remain on the books – which are vast.
Senator Warren: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.