Nuke deal a ‘dangerous’ shift in US nonproliferation efforts, senator warns
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Nuke deal a ‘dangerous’ shift in US nonproliferation efforts, senator warns

Robert Menendez says Obama sending message that Washington is okay with some nuclear activity, possibly sparking regional arms race

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Sen. Robert Menendez speaks at a press conference on March 6, 2015 in Newark New Jersey. (photo credit: Kena Betancur/Getty Images/AFP)
Sen. Robert Menendez speaks at a press conference on March 6, 2015 in Newark New Jersey. (photo credit: Kena Betancur/Getty Images/AFP)

WASHINGTON — The Iran deal will set a “dangerous precedent” for nuclear nonproliferation issues by suggesting the world is content to contain and curtail rather than halt countries’ nuclear ambitions, a senior American legislator told Israeli reporters this week.

Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who has stridently opposed the nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers, said the pact represents a shift in the way the international community deals with nonproliferation.

The deal could become “the new normal as to (what) countries will abide or not abide by. And that is a dangerous precedent,” Menendez said during a briefing in his Washington office.

“I am concerned globally about the message we are sending about proliferation,” Menendez said in a response to a question from The Times of Israel. “Because the message we had before, at least from the United States of America, was that we are doing everything we can to ensure nonproliferation. Not containment – not anything less than nonproliferation.”

The senator said the US had in the past worked to stop proliferation, rather than limit it, as it has done with the deal clinched with Tehran on July 14 in Vienna.

“So this is a fundamental shift, which goes far beyond Iran in terms of US policy. And it is a dangerous one.”

Across the globe, “a lot of key players in the world are going to be looking at this,” he said, adding that during his travels to the Middle East he has gotten the impression that several countries are eyeing their own nuclear programs in the wake of the Iran deal.

Other critics of the deal, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have also warned that the pact will spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, including among US allies seeking a nuclear umbrella.

Menendez pointed to Ukraine, which gave up its nuclear program in exchange for US protection, as an example why Gulf states might not be content with Washington’s security guarantees.

“Certainly after having seen the commitments we gave to Ukraine in the Bucharest agreement, that if they gave up their nuclear weapons we would protect their territorial integrity — that hasn’t worked very well for the Ukrainians.”

In about a decade and a half, Iran will be allowed to enrich as much uranium as it wants, and such a period is “blink of an eye,” he said, echoing one of Netanyahu’s key talking points. Hence, it was impossible to rule out other countries in the region trying to get their hands on a nuclear weapons for defense purposes, he said, which would spark a “nuclear arms race in the tinderbox of the Middle East.”

Menendez, one of the key architects of the bill that allowed US lawmakers a say in America’s approval or disapproval of the deal, has yet to formally announce how he is going to vote on the matter.

But he made plain that even if President Barack Obama uses his veto to override Congressional rejection, strong opposition to the deal Capitol Hill would not be meaningless.

“The stronger the vote against it, the stronger the aftermath of actions that may need to be taken,” he said. “If the agreement moves forward and survives the vote of disapproval or survives an override of a veto, there are whole host of issues” that can be done.

For one, Menendez wants to reauthorize the sanctions against Tehran to put some teeth behind the administration’s threat that sanctions can be “snapped back” into place should Tehran break the deal.

“Snapback means nothing if you’re not snapping back to something with consequences. Well, those [sanctions] expire next year under our law. I want to get those reauthorized. The stronger the vote against the agreement, the more likely that that will happen.”

He also vowed to act to strengthen Israel’s defense capabilities, due to the administrations’ promise to upgrade military assistance to the Gulf States. “Well, we have an obligation to keep Israel in a preferred military qualitative edge, so the more you keep raising the other edge, the more you have to give Israel the opportunity to have that qualitative edge.”

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