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Jay urges senators not to harm Iran deal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., spoke on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon urging his colleagues not to undermine negotiations to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Rockefeller called it "an issue of great importance to the national security of the United States and our allies....

"The question is how -- not whether -- we prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. For the first time in years, there is a real opportunity to verifiably eliminate Iran's nuclear weapons capability through tough negotiations rather than by acts of war."

On Nov. 23, the Obama administration reached an agreement with Iran to negotiate about nuclear weapons.

Three days later, Rockefeller said, "As we move forward, there should not be any illusions about the difficulty of dealing with Iran.

"This agreement does not magically change the past nor does it ignore Iran's current state sponsorship of terrorism. There will be real challenges in the months ahead in negotiating a long-term comprehensive agreement."

Rockefeller, a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who served as vice chairman from 2003 to 2007 and chairman from 2007 to 2009, called the agreement to negotiate "an encouraging first step.

"I urge my colleagues not to put it at risk by passing new sanctions right now. Instead, we should simply state the obvious: If Iran reneges or plays games, we will quickly pass new sanctions the very moment the need arises.

"There is still a long way to go, but this diplomatic opportunity is real. Why? Because Iran wants -- and needs -- to find a way out of the financial isolation that our crippling sanctions have inflicted on its government and businesses," Rockefeller said.

In August, Iranian voters elected Hassan Rouhani as their new president.

Rockefeller praised the moderate Rouhani for urging his nation to take "a different path" in its relations with the United States.

Rouhani has come under attack from some extremist Iranian leaders for trying to improve relations with other countries.

Major Gen. Mohammad Jadari, who commands Iran's Revolutionary Guard Force, said Rouhani is too moderate and has fallen under the influence of Western ideas.

Rockefeller said that "the immense power of U.S.-led global financial sanctions has created the opportunity to resolve this issue diplomatically -- with verifiable agreements and skeptical inspectors, rather than with bombs or boots on the ground."

Rockefeller himself supported the "powerful multilateral sanctions ... currently suffocating the Iranian economy" that "forced the current Iranian regime to the negotiating table."

Iran's agreement to begin negotiations, Rockefeller said, is the "first concrete result of those sanctions.

"It stops progress on Iran's nuclear program. It neutralizes Iran's most dangerous stockpile of nuclear material -- 20 percent enriched uranium -- and it establishes strong monitoring mechanisms that enable inspectors to verify that Iran is in compliance with its commitments."

That agreement also keeps most existing sanctions in place, cutting about $7 billion out of $100 billion in sanctions, leaving $93 billion still in place.

"We will continue to control and limit Iran's access to money during the six-month agreement. If Iran reneges on the terms of the interim deal, Iran will not even get all of the small relief that we have agreed to," Rockefeller said.

Iran will continue losing major oil revenues until more sanctions are removed.

"The pressure does not relent," Rockefeller said. "That is why Iran needs to complete a final comprehensive agreement to eliminate its nuclear weapons capability -- because this interim agreement doesn't give Iran what it needs to escape financial ruin."

Last month's negotiating agreement, Rockefeller stressed, puts Iran further from developing "a nuclear weapon than it would have been without this deal. And we have accomplished this first step through diplomatic strength, without a shot fired."

Rockefeller urged his colleagues not to introduce any new sanctions.

"Why would we risk an opportunity that may well be the only chance we have to resolve this without using military force?

"If we lose this diplomatic opportunity, then the use of force will be the only option to stop Iran's path to a nuclear bomb," Rockefeller said.

"All of us have lived with war for the past 12 years. We have seen up close the incalculable financial and human cost that has come with these wars, and the burden that the wars now put on our troops, their families, and our economy.

"This has only hardened my resolve," Rockefeller said, "that we take great care to exhaust every possible avenue to diplomatic resolution."

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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