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."