Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) said Wednesday he is concerned Iran will be able to produce nuclear weapons if the Islamic Republic is patient and abides by the terms of the nuclear deal that was implemented last Saturday.
The agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), requires Iran to curb aspects of its nuclear program in exchange for large-scale sanctions relief, and the United States, along with five other world powers, finalized the details of the accord last summer.
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Menendez made his comments criticizing the deal during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing titled "The Middle East After the JCPOA."
The Senator said he was not surprised Iran met its initial obligations of the agreement to downsize its nuclear program because that was necessary to get $50 billion to $150 billion in sanctions relief, which Tehran received upon the deal's implementation over the weekend.
He argued that those critical of the agreement were mainly worried about the long-term impact of the JCPOA.
"Some of us who have a problem with the agreement and voted against it, [it] is because it's not in the short term that we didn't think that they wouldn't live up to it," Menedez said. "It's in the longer process where they can realize their goals just by following the outline and framework of the JCPOA."
The Senator from New Jersey added that "if they [Iran] have the patience to do so, they will get to where they want to be. And so that is a concern for us."
Menendez opposed the deal when it was being debated by Congress last summer.
An argument critics of the JCPOA make is that Iran will be allowed under the deal to have a large, industrialized nuclear program while key limitations on the program expire in 10 to 15 years, giving the Islamic Republic little resistance to "dash" towards a weapon at that time if it so chooses.
Limits on Iran's centrifuges are set to expire in 10 years, and the cap on uranium enrichment is set to be lifted after 15 years. While the restrictions are in place, Iran can conduct research and development on advanced centrifuges, which can produce the fissile material required for a nuclear weapon more efficiently.
The Obama administration has argued the inspections regime created by the deal to monitor Iran's activities is unprecedented and will notify the world if Tehran violates the JCPOA.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog responsible for the inspections, has greater access to Iranian nuclear facilities than it did before the agreement.
Critics argue that Tehran can stall a given inspection for 24 days before the matter goes to an international commission to handle the matter, a process they believe allows for too much time to cover up any covert activity.
Administration officials and their European counterparts have expressed hope that this deal signals a potential warming of relations between Iran and the west, although some worry the regime will be empowered to continue its aggression in the Middle East, with greater resources from the sanctions relief.
Despite the deal, the U.S. recently imposed new sanctions on Iran for illegally test-firing ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.