Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) on Wednesday sharply criticized the Obama administration for urging Congress not to pass new sanctions on Iran, Politico reported. The Senator said the White House rhetoric on the subject was “over the top” and a case of “fear-mongering.”
While appreciating President Barack Obama’s stated goal of seeking diplomatic solutions to Iran’s nuclear plans, Menendez said he intends to keep pressing for new sanctions that will take effect as soon as it becomes clear Iran has stopped cooperating with the West. This approach, the Senator believes, to getting Iran to reach a permanent nuclear deal through the permanent threat of increased economic pressure, has a better chance to succeed.
Menendez said in no uncertain terms that he felt insulted by White House press secretary Jay Carney’s recent description of his continued push for congressional sanctions as a “march to war.”
Last week, Carney said: “The American people do not want a march to war, and it is important to understand that if pursuing a resolution diplomatically is disallowed or ruled out, what options then do we and our allies have to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon?”
“What I don’t appreciate is when I hear remarks out of the White House spokesman that say … if we’re pursuing sanctions we’re marching the country off to war,” Menendez told NPR. “I think that’s way over the top, I think that’s fear-mongering.”
A group of senior Democrats in the Senate, including Menendez and Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) have been outspoken in their criticism of Secretary of State John Kerry’s deal with the Iranians, which may or may not require them to stop enriching uranium (they say it doesn’t). They are fully committed to cooperating with Republican senators on a new heap of sanctions on Dec. 9, when the Senate reconvenes, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he will “take a look” at those sanctions.
Menendez doesn’t deny the allegation that his dispute with the White House could be perceived as a good cop-bad cop strategy by the Iranians. “We consistently hear about how we have to worry about the hard-liners in Iran. And it seems that the Iranians get to play good cop-bad cop, [Iranian President] Rouhani as the good cop, the hard-liners as the bad cop,” Menendez said.