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Sen. Ben Cardin: Iran Nuclear Deal Still Raises 'A Lot Of Questions'


Now reaction from a key Democratic senator. Ben Cardin of Maryland is the ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In a statement today, he spoke of Congress's solemn obligation to review this deal.

Sen. Cardin, welcome to the program.

BEN CARDIN: Oh, it's good to be with you. Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Does the agreement - as you've read it or been briefed about it today - does it address any of the concerns that you had about it?

CARDIN: Well, I'm just starting the review process. This agreement took two years to negotiate. It's over a hundred pages. It's going to take a United States senator more than a couple of hours to understand it, so we're in the process of reviewing it now. There are questions that we're going to want to get answers to on the timing issues and how the process works. So there's a lot of questions.

SIEGEL: Should the Senate consider this deal narrowly, as a deal about Iran's nuclear program and sanctions, or is it germane to consider Iran's behavior supporting Hezbollah or the Assad regime or what it's given to Hamas in Gaza?

CARDIN: The first responsibility of this agreement is to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon state, and we need to focus on that. The tradeoff for achieving that objective will be to give Iran relief from the sanctions. And we know that with that type of relief, they may very well choose to use the resources to help their people, or they may use some of those resources to do the types of activities in that region that are harmful to our security interests.

SIEGEL: How much weight do you attach to the judgment of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has declared this deal a stunning historic mistake?

CARDIN: Well, we knew the prime minister was opposed to the framework, so we're not surprised by his view against this agreement. But I must tell you, Israel's security issues are of major concern. We don't want to see an arms race in the Middle East, so it is a factor. And it's a factor that I'm sure we will carefully consider.

SIEGEL: But just to clarify - the primary concern there, too, would be the nuclear threat that might be posed to Israel, as opposed to their concerns about Iranian surrogates in the region?

CARDIN: The purpose of these negotiations, which are supported by all the stakeholders, including Israel, is to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon state. We always knew that the price for that agreement would be releasing Iran on the sanctions and that could help them pursue objectives that we find repulsive. So that, in and of itself, is not a disqualifier. There are other steps we can take. We can impose actions against countries that pursue support of terrorists, who violate ballistic missile arrangements. So in evaluating this agreement, our primary focus will be on whether it prevents Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon power. But we will also look at ways that we can influence their decisions as it relates to the other areas of concern.

SIEGEL: Was the United States wrong to have abandoned the aim of shutting down Iran's nuclear program all together, or was permitting the Iranians some kind of nuclear program necessary to achieve any deal?

CARDIN: Well, of course, I was not sitting at the negotiating tables. I would have strongly preferred an agreement where Iran did not need to do any enrichment. They could certainly have gotten material for civil nuclear needs from different sources. My understanding is that was a nonstarter from the beginning, and we did not have international support to maintain the position of no enrichment. But yes, I would have been much, much more comfortable if there was no enrichment in Iran.

SIEGEL: Sen. Ben Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, thank you very much for talking with us today.

CARDIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.