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Senator Schatz: "We Ought to Pursue Peace First"

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) spoke on the Senate floor in support of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“There is no alternative to this agreement—certainly no military option—that eliminates 98 percent of Iran’s fissile material or 2/3 of its operating centrifuges,” said Senator Schatz.

On August 10th, Senator Schatz announced his support of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

To view video of Senator Schatz’s floor speech, click here.

The full text of Senator Schatz’s floor speech follows:

A President of the United States once said of his nation’s enemy that we cannot “wish away the differences between our two societies and our philosophies, but we should always remember that we do have common interests and the foremost among them is to avoid war.” 

In pursuing that cause, he said, “we will be prepared to protect our interests and those of our friends and allies.  But we want more than deterrence. We seek genuine cooperation. We seek progress for peace.”

It was President Reagan who seized the opportunity during the Cold War and President George H.W. Bush who carried it forward.  

Together, they achieved commitments from the United States and the Soviet Union—enemies through and through—to reduce their stockpiles of nuclear weapons, bringing us ever closer to a world free of the threat of nuclear annihilation.

It ingrained in us a tradition of pragmatism—the idea that even with countries we deeply distrust and whose behavior we abhor, we cannot ignore the opportunity to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.  

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that the United States negotiated with Iran and the other members of the P5+1 preserves that tradition to “seek progress for peace.”

This deal is not perfect, as the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee so ably explained.  We had to make concessions.  That is because it was negotiated between sovereign countries pursuing diplomacy, not unconditional surrender.

I hear complaints about one provision or another, and some of those criticisms are valid.  But we do not have the luxury of sending our negotiators back to Vienna.  If we do that, things will fall apart.

Every ambassador from the P5+1 has made clear that the multilateral sanctions that brought Iran to the table will be upended. 

We would be isolated diplomatically, Iran’s nuclear program will be unconstrained, and Iran would get most of its money, too.

Of course, we could levy harsh unilateral sanctions ourselves.  And that may be emotionally satisfying to many.  But they won’t bite.  They did not when Iran went from only 300 centrifuges to more than 18,000, and they won’t now.

The question in this debate is whether to approve the deal or to dump it.  There is no door number three.

But we don’t need to feel resigned because, as a deal, it is quite a good one.  Experts in the nonproliferation space almost unanimously affirm that it is a strong deal. 

It blocks each one of Iran’s pathways to the bomb and places its nuclear program under strict international supervision.

There is no alternative to this agreement—certainly no military option—that eliminates 98 percent of Iran’s fissile material or 2/3 of its operating centrifuges.

Critics make a few persuasive arguments that have more to do with how we view Iran than this deal.

First, they say that it places too much trust in Iran.  But the opposite is true.  This agreement is not based on trust or shared values, and we have no reason to assume that Iran will comply with its terms in good faith. 

That is why the agreement adopts a robust inspections and verifications regime that will be in place for up to 25 years.  We will be monitoring Iran’s entire nuclear supply chain—from uranium mining, milling, and enrichment to the manufacturing and replacement of centrifuges—so we will know if Iran is diverting uranium or centrifuges to secret facilities. 

If Iran does try to breakout to acquire the bomb, all options remain on the table to stop it, including the use of military force.  And because the agreement provides us more information about Iran’s nuclear program, our military options will be more effective and have the backing of the international community because we will have exhausted diplomacy first.

The other concern—and I think this is a valid one—is that this deal should not be overstated in terms of its impact on our priorities and alliances in the region.  It is important on the nuclear issue, but in October we will have many of the same challenges in the Middle East that we have in September. 

Iran is still the world’s leading state sponsor of terror and nothing in this deal will deter us from working to contain Iran’s regional aspirations, including its support of Hamas and Hezbollah.  But our efforts can now occur with a nuclear-armed Iran off the table.

I would like to personally offer some words to those Americans who love Israel with a personal passion and commitment that I share.

Your skepticism is well earned and based in faith and history—based in familial relationships and culture.  It is core to who we are. 

You want to know rightly what happens next—what the United States is prepared to do to protect your loved ones living in a dangerous neighborhood.

Whether you support this deal or not, we can all agree that America’s commitment to Israel remains unshakeable.  And we will continue—Democrats and Republicans united—to stand with Israel.

Even as we work to restrict Iran’s nuclear ambitions, we will continue to thwart Hamas and Hezbollah.

We are committed to cooperating with Israel on intelligence and security at the highest levels ever and continuing to ensure that Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge is protected.

When this debate is over, we must find new ways to enhance our joint efforts to counter threats that endanger Israel every day.

Mr. President, we are debating what may be the most important foreign policy choice of the decade.  Our decision will have consequences for the security and stability of the new Middle East.

If Congress chooses to oppose the agreement, we will witness an unraveling of the international sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table, with Iran moving ever faster towards the bomb and our country left with few choices besides another war in the Middle East. 

We have shown as a country that we have the will to protect ourselves, our allies, and our interests—using military force when truly necessary.  We will continue to stand with Israel despite whatever temporary disagreements our governments may have.

We do not underestimate or understate the challenges that we have and the role of our military in shaping events for the better.

But in this instance, with eyes wide open, we ought to pursue peace first.

Thank you, Mr. President.