The ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), spoke to CNN’s Jim Sciutto on State of the Union regarding the Iran nuclear negotiations.
TEXT HIGHLIGHT: Cardin on the Iran nuclear negotiations
“SCIUTTO:… Is Tehran taking advantage of that in the negotiations?
CARDIN: No, I would disagree with that. Look at what has been accomplished over the last many months. We have kept not only Iran’s program in check. There has actually been a reduction of their capacity to be able to produce the nuclear materials for a weapon. The framework agreement has been adhered to by Iran. Many people thought that would not be the case. Now it’s — we need to make sure that they cannot produce a nuclear weapon and we have the right to inspect to make sure that we know what they are doing.”
SCIUTTO: I want to turn now to Senator Ben Cardin. He is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, partner with Senator Corker in that Iran bill.
But, Senator Cardin, if I can, just before we get to Iran, I want to touch on what Senator Corker ended with there, his belief that the Loretta Lynch nomination will be resolved in the early part of the week. Do you believe the same thing? Is there a commitment from Democratic and Republican leadership to move this forward?
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Well, I agree with President Obama. It’s — Loretta Lynch should have been on the floor for a vote well before now.
This is the longest any attorney general nominee has had to wait. And it’s outrageous. She should be confirmed. This is a critically important position to have a confirmed attorney general that the president has nominated. So, I think it’s outrageous. It should have been done well before now. It shouldn’t be connected to any other issue.
SCIUTTO: Senator Harry Reid has threatened to force a vote using parliamentary procedure. Will he have to do that? Or do you sense the Republican side finally wavering on this and it’s going to move forward?
CARDIN: As you pointed out, Jim, we had a good week on bipartisanship with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote. We are hopeful that the Loretta Lynch nomination will be brought to the floor.
There has been absolutely no reason about her qualifications that would prevent this nomination from going forward. So, I am hopeful it will be up this week.
SCIUTTO: Let’s turn back to Iran now.
This is something. This was an interesting — it was good bipartisanship to have the Senate’s Democrats and Republicans working on this, but this is something that frankly the president fought for months. He considered it an intrusion into his privilege here to negotiate what he called not a treaty, but a political agreement with a foreign country.
But you had Democrats there, yourself included, voting 19-0 on this out of committee. Do you believe you have undermined your president on this issue?
CARDIN: Oh, no, no, no, not at all.
In fact, I think America is stronger today as a result of the vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. We are on path to have much more unity between Congress and the White House. I think the president is in a stronger position now to deliver the type of diplomatic solution that prevents Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state.
That’s our objective. It’s a very simple objective. Iran cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. And I think, this week, we are on path with a stronger position because we have a bipartisan support for how Congress should oversight that agreement, and the administration is in agreement.
So, it’s not unusual to have any administration disagree as to what role Congress should play in any of the work that they are doing, but I think we have worked out the right way, the right way for a thoughtful review by Congress to look at sanctions, since we imposed the sanctions, as to how those sanctions will be handled.
SCIUTTO: Now, I have got to tell you, Senator, one of the difficulties covering this nuclear agreement is that it seems like the tale of two agreements.
After the political agreement a couple weeks ago, the Iranians talk about a certain agreement back home. U.S. officials talk about another one here, and they seem to be at loggerheads. And on one of those key issues, which Senator Corker talked about and I know you have a strong opinion about as well and the president has said he strong opinions about, and that is how sanctions relief is done.
Is it done immediately, is it done phased in? And the president frankly did not give a straight answer on that on Friday. He seems to be allowing for a lot of wiggle room there.
I have to ask you the same question I asked the Republican senator, Corker. Will the Senate reject a deal that gives immediate sanctions relief, as opposed to phased-in sanctions relief, on the sanctions that the Senate and Congress passed in recent years with regards to Iran’s nuclear program?
CARDIN: Well, Bob Corker and I have worked very closely together to get the legislation that is moving through Congress to the president and signed.
It’s not a vote on the merits of an agreement. We don’t know what is in that agreement until we see it in June. What has been agreed to on April 2 was a framework. We need to see whether we accomplish our purpose. And our purpose is to have ample time before Iran could break out to a nuclear weapon, that we have full inspections so we can find out if they are cheating, because we don’t trust Iran, and be able to take effective action to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state.
That’s the objective of the diplomatic agreement. If that can be achieved, we have accomplished a great deal in keeping Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state, a game-changer in the region.
SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this before I let you go, because Senator Corker there said that, over time, he has watched the president move closer to Iranian positions over the two years of these negotiations, that the Iranians, in effect, started here, and the president’s position has been moving closer, including on the basic issue of its program remains.
All these nuclear sites remain, modified, but none of them dismantled. I wonder if you agree with that assessment. Is — does the Obama administration want this deal more than Tehran, and are they showing that? Is Tehran taking advantage of that in the negotiations?
CARDIN: No, I would disagree with that.
Look at what has been accomplished over the last many months. We have kept not only Iran’s program in check. There has actually been a reduction of their capacity to be able to produce the nuclear materials for a weapon. The framework agreement has been adhered to by Iran. Many people thought that would not be the case. Now it’s — we need to make sure that they cannot produce a nuclear weapon and we have the right to inspect to make sure that we know what they are doing.
SCIUTTO: Senator Ben Cardin, thanks for having — taking the time this Sunday morning. Great to have you on.
CARDIN: Thank you.