Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), coauthor of the strongest Iran sanctions legislation in history, called for increasing sanctions pressure as Iran continues to work toward nuclear capability.
The U.S. must “make absolutely clear to the Iranian government that unless they change their course, their situation will only get worse” said Menendez, who recently became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a lightly attended speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference today.
Menendez noted that Iran’s crude oil exports have dropped dramatically and the value of the Iranian rial has plummeted since the sanctions legislation he and Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) spearheaded in late 2011 has gone into effect.
Menendez said he sees no reason to stop now.
“Barring verifiable compliance” with International Atomic Energy Agency requirements, he said, “I see no reason as some are suggesting to relieve the pressure of any of the sanctions. I see a reason to vigorously enforce them to achieve our goals.”
While Menendez said he is hopeful about the new round of talks with Iran, he said the Tehran regime should not be allowed to run out the clock.
“Let’s be clear,” he said. “We will not and cannot talk for talking’s sake. We cannot allow the negotiations to become just a stalling tactic for Iran to buy time.”
Menendez also voiced strong objections to recent unilateral statehood efforts by the Palestinian Authority at the United Nations.
“If we are to get [to a two-state solution], it is critical that the Palestinians come back to the negotiating table and stop the stunts and the grandstanding at the United Nations,” Menendez said. “It is counterproductive and it fundamentally jeopardizes the Palestinian relationship with the U.S., and undermines their own interests.”
Menendez, whose support for Israel has been unwavering, has recently come under scrutiny from government watchdogs who allege he used his political influence to benefit top campaign donors.
“There will never be any daylight between the United States and Israel on my watch,” Menendez said. “Never.”
With additional reporting from Ellison Barber