Illinois Senator Mark Kirk joined me today to talk about the state of the Congressional oversight of the negotiations with Iran:
HH: I begin this hour with Illinois Senator, United States Senator, Mark Kirk. You can follow Senator Kirk on Twitter, @SenatorKirk. He is of course one of the co-authors of the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act of 2015. Senator Kirk, great to have you back on the Hugh Hewitt Show.
MK: Thanks for having me on Radio Free Hugh.
HH: Senator, I want to begin by asking you about the Thomas Erdbrink piece in the New York Times this morning – Iran’s Hardliners Show Restraint On Nuclear Talks. In it, they quote one of the Supreme Leader’s political advisors, Hamid Reza Taraghi, a political strategist, as saying that, “The fact of the matter is we are seeing positive changes in the U.S. position in the nuclear talks. We are steadfast, and the U.S. is compromising. We are not complaining.” That does not fill me with a lot of cheer about what’s going on over there, Senator.
MK: That indicates that they, Wendy Sherman, who is our lead negotiator, is probably caving as fast as she thinks she can get away with.
HH: And so where’s that leave the Senate? Where’s that leave the Nuclear Weapons Free Act of 2015, if in fact they’re backpedaling?
MK: Right now, I’m building bipartisan support in the Senate to get to the 67 required so I can have two-thirds of the Senate, so it doesn’t really matter what Barack Obama thinks about this.
HH: Now you know, there was a lot of silence when the letter from 47 went over.
HH: And there was some fear that Democrats have bolted. Have you got them back on the corral? I liked the letter from the 47, but I also want the Democrats to be involved in being tough with Iran.
MK: I certainly did like the letter, which is why I signed it, felt that the more, the merrier to highlight the perfidy of Iran on the nuclear question.
HH: But do you believe that you’ve got Democrats who are willing to come back after they got angry over that?
MK: I am hoping here, Hugh. The thing I’m releasing today is that a list of 290 American citizens who have been killed by agents of Iran. The large portion of the list is from the Marines killed in the barracks from the Imad Mughniyah attack in 1983. Let me read to you some of the casualties. Two were from Oklahoma, 21 from Pennsylvania, one was from Puerto Rico, and seven from Virginia.
HH: I have got a story from last week’s Washington Post about General Qasem Soleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Forces, in which he and Petraeus are sparring back and forth. And David Petraeus basically says Iran is winning in Iraq. Do you agree with the assessment of the General, Senator Kirk?
MK: They are. By providing that assistance to the Iraq military to retake Tikrit, they gained a huge amount of sway with the Iraqi government. The problem that we face now is the Iranians have taken the lynchpin of the Saudi Arabian peninsula by controlling Yemen. And as Yemen goes, so may Saudi Arabia. And that’s probably the biggest shoe to fall in Iran’s favor.
HH: So is there any way that we can be negotiating with Iran when Iran is in force in Yemen, in Damascus, in Beirut, and now in Baghdad and in Tikrit. Is there any way that this makes any sense at all, Senator Kirk?
MK: There’s a way to roll back Iran, and that’s by putting in the Menendez-Kirk sanctions, which passed overwhelming in the Senate, 100-0. We even tanked the value of Iran’s currency by 74%. I joked with those in the intelligence community that Iran might have, maybe even have to skip a payment to Hezbollah for a month or two because they were so out of cash.
HH: Nevertheless, when I read through the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act of 2015, I want to read this to the audience. The legislation increases Congressional oversight of Iran nuclear negotiations by requiring the President to formally submit to Congress the text of any final agreement with Iran, as well as verification assessment reports, within five days of reaching a final agreement. Congress would have the opportunity to review any agreement for 30 days. If there’s no final agreement by July 6th, the bill re-imposes sanctions. But, and this was the kicker for me, the bill provides the president with authority to waive new sanctions if he feels it necessary in order to conclude a comprehensive agreement with Iran. Does, won’t he just use that, Senator Kirk?
MK: He will likely try to, you know, he’s even told us that he will be going to the U.N. Security Council to make further sanctions by the Congress against Iran illegal under U.N. resolutions. I have joked with some of my colleagues here, if he put a resolution before the U.N. Security Council outlawing the Republican Party, that would probably carry.
HH: So why the wait? Why is this not on the floor now and moving forward?
MK: The only reason for the wait that we’ve had now is that the administration swore to us that they would have something good by March 24th, which is today. And right now, we’re going through a kind of version of the Ayatollah ate my homework, and where they can’t even bring in a complete agreement. I have long predicted they will be unable to come up with an agreement for one simple reason. The reason why is the Iranians haven’t finished their atomic bomb, yet, and need more time to complete their arsenal.
HH: So at the end of this, you do not trust Wendy Sherman to be able to deliver any kind of an agreement?
MK: Remember, she was the U.S. official that was responsible for negotiating with North Korea, and when the same issue was before them, North Korea on the verge of becoming a nuclear power, and she came up with the idea of having us pay for their nuclear reactors in North Korea. And to this date, we still don’t know what happened to the $3 billion dollars that she assembled for that project, which was called KITO, a total waste of taxpayer money.
HH: Has any detail, any kind of the annexes, any sort of the language been given to the Senate, yet, that Ms. Sherman is negotiating with?
MK: It has, and unfortunately, they classified the document beyond all recognition. And for individual senators, you have to go to a special security room. If you take notes, those notes have the same classification as these documents that you’re taking notes from. It’s an attempt to use the classification purpose to make sure the Senate doesn’t know what’s going on.
HH: Is there anything that Mark Kirk could see Iran do what would persuade the Senator from Illinois, who I’m talking with, that the deal that emerges…
MK: There is one simple plan, if they do exactly what Nelson Mandela did on disarming nuclear weapons. As you know, South Africa built four nuclear weapons, and when Nelson Mandela wanted to get rid of them, he agreed to anytime, anywhere inspections. So international inspectors could go, even go through his underwear in his home at any time, at any place, looking for evidence of nukes.
HH: And so that would satisfy you? What about what Netanyahu said to the Congress? They also have to have behavioral change such as removing leadership of the operational leadership of the Shiia militias in Iraq. Is that a requirement for Mark Kirk?
MK: I would say how about defunding Hezbollah? And the problem for this negotiation now, Wendy has been letting go of sanctions money back to the Iranians to the tune of $490 million dollars per period. And that is several years of Hezbollah money that’s gone back to Iran in very liquid form.
HH: Is there any undoing the damage that these negotiations has done? Can Iran be put back on the ledge that they were on when President Obama and Wendy Sherman and John Kerry rescued them?
MK: Remember, they already have rescued Iran. Iran’s economy, under the Menendez-Kirk, was tanking, which is why they came to the negotiating table.
HH: But can you put them back there in a hurry, do you think?
MK: I think if we had put in the regular old Menendez-Kirk sanctions, that would be the way to do it, and do it in a bipartisan way right here in the Congress.
HH: When do you expect a vote on this, Senator Mark Kirk?
MK: I’m hoping that we will vote on this related subject in an amendment that I may offer to the budget consideration.
HH: Last question having to do with the Defense budget, which is being debated right now. Are you going to break the caps on DOD and return the Department of Defense to something like the funding that at minimum is necessary?
MK: I will quote my colleague from Tennessee, Senator Corker, who told the assembled members today at lunch, he sees the budget agreement coming before him as a big win for Defense hawks who are concerned about the Defense spending. And I would agree with Bob Corker on that point.
HH: Senator Kirk, thank you very much. You are running for reelection, are you not?
MK: Certainly in 2016, there are no refunds coming back in my election fundraising.
HH: And what is the best place for people to check up on Mark Kirk?
HH: Thank you, Senator.
End of interview.