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U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD)

Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), the ranking Democrat on the all-important Senate Foreign Relations Committee waited until the 13th hour, but on Friday, Sept. 4 he announced his opposition to the Nuclear Iran Deal in an op-ed in the Washington Post.

Cardin went through the many reasons why he (finally!) decided he cannot support the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. He also announced that he is introducing new legislation that addresses significant concerns raised by nearly all members of Congress in announcing their positions, both for and against the deal.


Whether those many elected representatives who announced their support for the deal, but hedged their support by voicing their deep concerns about its many limitations and about the trustworthiness of Iran will support this legislation is something their constituents will be closely watching. And then heads will swivel towards Iran to see whether that country will use Cardin’s legislation, should it get any traction, as (yet another) excuse to claim the U.S. is in breach of the deal and walk away.

The Maryland Senator said that he considered two questions as paramount while studying and consulting about the JCPOA. First, is the deal more or less likely to lead to Iran becoming a state with nuclear weapons, and second, would rejection of the deal be more or less likely to lead to Iran becoming a state with nuclear weapons.


First, the reasons Cardin gave for opposing the deal: once sanctions are lifted, it will be much harder, if even possible, to reimpose them. And so if Iran decides to cheat and develop nuclear weapons despite the conditions imposed by the deal, the rest of the world will be left with no option except for the military one.

Had the earlier opponents of the deal forcefully made use of that analysis, perhaps the debate would have begun with the obvious principle that “with the deal comes war,” rather than “either the deal or war.” Why Cardin waited until the 13th hour to roll it out is a question worth asking.

Cardin also mentioned the overarching concern voiced by nearly all opponents of the deal, which is that after 15 years Iran is left virtually free to produce nuclear weapons and with a very short breakout time. In other words, the deal would provide Iran, a rogue terrorist supporting country, with international legitimacy for its “industrial-scale nuclear program.”

The 24 day delay in inspections for Iranian sites where nuclear activity is suspected gave Cardin great pause, as did the side agreement which gives the International Atomic Energy Agency sole access to information about Iran’s possible military dimensions (PMDs) of its earlier nuclear weapons program.


In addition, Cardin said he cannot support the lifting of the arms embargo and intercontinental ballistic missile sanctions.

Why any argument against the deal did not begin with a discussion of Iran’s demand to be permitted access to ICBMs is hard to fathom, but few chose to mention this as a primary point.  And, as both Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer pointed out, Iran does not need intercontinental missiles to reach Israel, those ICBMs will have American and European addresses coded in.

“Our European partners understand that they cannot effectively act without the United States,” Cardin writes just before explaining his new legislation – which he promises will be bipartisan and include both opponents and supporters of the JCPOA. Whether Cardin means the European lifting of sanctions is meaningless unless the U.S. also lifts those sanctions, or that policing of the deal is unrealistic without the U.S. or something else altogether, is unknown.


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Lori Lowenthal Marcus is a contributor to the A graduate of Harvard Law School, she previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email:


  1. Introduced with Senator Bennet. A good idea. It will be very telling to see if the Republicans allow it to move, or will they just block it because a Democrat has his name on it (even if it’s a good idea). Are they serious about stopping a nuclear weapon or just interested in political theatrics?

  2. When you consider that Cardin was the guy who negotiated and succeeded to convince Corker to sponsor his incredibly stupid deal which made it possible for Obama to double-cross Congress on the adoption process of the Iran deal, it's difficult not to be suspicious of his real motives. See for details. Why is he coming up with something that could in fact salvage Obama's deal by giving it the appearance of more stringency? Adding his voice to the other two lonely Dem Senators is not going to change the maths at this stage to prevent Obama from using his veto power, so Cardin is not really taking any chances. As Lori implied in her conclusion, you can't help wondering what he's up to and whether he can be trusted. At this stage, there are not many Democrats left who can be trusted, and if anything, Cardin has shown that he shouldn't be. His legislation should be entirely rejected, together with the whole deal itself. It's too late to put band aids on this broken plate and claim it's as good as new.

  3. Cardin just shot himself in the foot and will pay serious consequences for his blunder in not supporting the nuclear pact! The Democrats are within reach of regaining the Senate, ig not in 2016 then 2018. Since the elected leader of the party is responsible to appoint members to committees and who will be chairmen, when his pal Chuck Schumer is not elected as the party leader, whoever takes over that spot will justifably NOT appoint Cardin the head of any committee or may not even appoint him to more important committees for just punishment for not supporting the President on the extremely important matter!

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