A key Senate Democrat slammed the administration Wednesday over the state of ongoing nuclear talks with Iran, raising doubts about whether the President even has the support of his own party in pursuing diplomatic outreach with the longtime geopolitical foe.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed deep skepticism that negotiations between six world powers, known as the P5+1, and Iran are leading to a deal that is in the interest of the U.S. and its allies.
“I have to be honest with you: The more I hear from the administration and its quotes, the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran,” said the visibly frustrated Menendez, addressing two administration witnesses at a hearing on the status of talks.
Menendez has backed a bipartisan proposal to institute new sanctions on Iran, which the president has threatened to veto.
At Wednesday’s hearing, he suggested the United States is losing ground to Iran in the ongoing negotiations.
“Over the past 18 months, we have been moving closer to their positions on all key elements,” said Menendez, adding that Iran’s history of secretive behavior should make the administration particularly weary of any deal that does not fully dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
“After 18 months of stalling, Iran needs to know there will be consequences for failure,” Menendez went on to say. “Now some of us believe those consequences should be additional sanctions.”
Menendez was one of several Democrats who expressed concerns about the state of the Iran talks at Wednesday’s hearing.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) also called Iran’s motives into question, citing instances in the past when the country has misled the international community about the nature of its nuclear program as well as their involvement in “activities to destabilize governments as near as Bahrain and as far away as Morocco.”
“Separate and apart from this nuclear negotiation,” quipped Kaine, “Iran has engaged in activities today that should make us be skeptical about their intentions.”
Still, the administration witnesses insisted that they are approaching negotiations with Iran with open eyes.
In response to similar concern voiced by Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware), Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken said the administration shared those concerns.
“That’s precisely why we’re driving to get a deal, if we get one, that satisfies very stringent requirements,” said Blinken. “And we also fully agree with you and other members of the committee that no deal is better than a bad deal, and indeed there have been opportunities to take a bad deal.”