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VOA: Interview with Senator Ben Cardin On Iran Protests

Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee talks to VOA contributor Greta Van Susteren, Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: D. Furtrowsky / VOA)
Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee talks to VOA contributor Greta Van Susteren, Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: D. Furtrowsky / VOA)
VOA: Interview with U.S Senator Ben Cardin On Iran Protests
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Q: “Senator, thank you very much for joining me.

SENATOR BEN CARDIN (D-MD): “My pleasure. It’s good to be with you.”

Q: “Senator, there is a lot going on in Iran. There have been a series of protests sparked, at least at first, according to many as an economic issue, they have now somewhat subsided but what are your thoughts on these protests?”

CARDIN: “Well, the Persian people, the Iranians, are great people; they want freedom, they want economic opportunities. They were promised a lot that has not been delivered so there’s a great deal of frustration among the Iranians that why aren’t they doing better why aren’t there better opportunities. They see their leadership, their government, is holding them back so they’re expressing themselves and I think we should all be proud of their courage.”

Q: “What about the response by the Trump administration to these protests? I know that there was criticisms—President Trump and, even Vice President Pence, has been critical of the Obama administration and President Obama waited a number of days before making a statement. Maybe President Trump made a statement earlier on Twitter; but, nonetheless they are just statements. Is there anything more that we should be doing in Iran about these protests?”

CARDIN: “The question is what can you do? I mean these are obviously internal issues and it’s hard for us to get directly involved. But to the extent that the Iranian officials violate established international human rights standards we should take action. We have tools that we can use to take action against violations of human rights. People have a right to peacefully protest about their government, they should have the right to be able to speak out without intimation or fear. In Iran that’s not true. So, it is right for us and we do impose sanctions against Iran for human rights violations. We’ve recently passed a new law, known as the Global Magnitsky, we can sanction individuals and in regards to our banking system or visas. So, there are steps that we can take against those who are perpetrating violations of human rights and we should working with the international community.”

Q: “How fast can we do those sanctions? I mean if sanctions are the proper response, how fast can we do that?”

CARDIN: “Well, they can be done quickly. I mean obviously there’s some—when you are dealing with banking issues there’s due process that has to follow and the Treasury Department follows that pretty closely; but we can impose sanctions pretty quickly we have against Iran. We do have sanctions imposed against Iran for human rights we can strengthen those.”

Q: “Going back about the 2015, you were opposed to the original Iran Deal, the Nuclear Deal. Why were you opposed to it?”

CARDIN: “Well, for several reasons. First, it started with the allowing Iran to enrich uranium which I thought they did not need to do. So, it started with a premise that allowed them to have enriched uranium which one day could be used for a nuclear weapon. Secondly, it took away, I thought, a lot of the leverage we had the deal with the non-nuclear violations concerning their ballistic missiles, our sponsoring of terrorism, the human rights violations, even though we can still do that by releasing some of our sanction relief it makes them more challenging to deal with these other issues.”

Q: “Alright, so fast forward to now President Trump in, I think, October said that he was not going to recertify the deal, so where does that lead us now and what is your position on that?”

CARDIN: “Well, I think it would be wrong for the United States to walk away from an agreement. We would be isolated, we would be the bad guys when Iran is the bad actor their government is the one violating international laws. We should spotlight on Iran’s compliance with the agreement and the agreement is lifetime. They’re not allowed to have a nuclear weapon or develop nuclear weapons. We need now to make sure that in fact is enforced and Iran never becomes a nuclear weapons state.”

Q: “I thought there was a period of time as a ten-year deal?”

CARDIN: “There’s different limits as to what certain standards have to be complied with. But it’s lifetime that they are not allowed to have a nuclear weapon. So, we can hold them to that and we need to enforce that.”

Q: “Are you satisfied with the level of inspection that we’re getting. Are we getting the—is the IAEA getting the access it needs to make sure they aren’t violating agreement?”

CARDIN: “We’ve had the secretary general of the IAEA in Congress, we’ve asked him specifically whether there’s any additional needs for inspections. He believes he’s had all the access he needs, everywhere he needs to be so there’s been no complaint to date about the denial of access.”

Q: “So are you confident today, as much as one can be, confident today that Iran met its side of the deal as to where it should be on this agreement?”

CARDIN: “As it relates to its nuclear commitments, the individuals who are responsible for the enforcements of this agreement believe that Iran has complied with the agreement. Had there been minor violations at times, yes and they’ve been corrected. But as far as any material breach, there has not been a material breach by Iran.”

Q: “So Iran doesn’t keep you up at night as it relates to nuclear weapons? Doesn’t keep you up at night?”

CARDIN: “Today it does not. I do worry long term about their ability to be nuclear weapons state because of how do we enforce it beyond the sunset dates? That is a concern.

Q: “What’s a long term for you? What’s the…”

CARDIN: “Well there’s 8 years more of the specific limits on what they can do in centrifuges and research and issues like that. After that period of time, although they’ll prevent it from being a nuclear weapons state, those limits no longer apply. So the question is how do you enforce beyond the 8 years?”

Q: “In terms of what has just transpired, now the protests seem to at least the reports as much we can tell seem the protests have died down a little bit. Do you think by not doing more than sort of just issuing a statement that we’re with you to the Iranian people we have now so taken the wind out of their sales and they’re going to feel very discouraged and there’s going to be no sort of pressure on their government to meet human rights requirements and a greater opportunity for the people?”

CARDIN: “This is a delicate line we have to walk. This is the Iranian people speaking out against their government. It’s not the United States encouraging people to do things they don’t want to do. To the extent that we get actively engaged, it will be used by the Iranian officials to say this is the United States not the Iranian people.”

Q: “Well they’ve already said that. They say their enemies have done it which means Israel and the United States. That’s what the hard lines clerics are saying that we’re responsible for this.”

CARDIN: “And we don’t want to give them any ammunition for what they’re saying. We know that the Iranian’s don’t tell the truth about what is happening. Their people know that. They’ve figured this out. You see the protests that are taking place. I think it’s important for us to keep a spotlight on the protestors and do everything we can to keep them safe and to take action against Iran if they violate basic human rights. I think the seeds for protest will remain unless the Iranian leaders change their course and allow the people basic human rights and basic economic freedoms.”

Q: “Do you have a dialogue at all with the White House on the recertification issue and the deal and even the protests?”

CARDIN: “Yes, I’ve talk to Vice President Pence about the protests and we have a resolution that we hope to file – Senator Corker and I, with others that will pass in regards to showing that the United States Senate is behind the rights of the people of Iran to express their views against their government and I’ve been meeting with the representatives of the Trump administration in regards to the certification and waiver issues as to how Congress can be helpful provided that we don’t do anything that will violate the nuclear agreement and that we work closely with our European partners.”

Q: “Well President Trump seems to take much harder line on this than you do, right? Is that a fair description?”

CARDIN: “Well I think President Trump has expressed himself that he believes the agreement should be stronger. And we had pointed out that a lot of his concerns which deal with beyond the requirements of the remaining 8 years that that’s an issue we can work together on. So we are working with the administration to see whether we can clarify some of the provisions as long as it doesn’t violate the JCPOA.”

Q: “And do you think you’ve convinced the administration or convinced President Trump because he seems to have drawn the line in the sand on this.”

CARDIN: “I think the National Security Advisors to the president believes in our National Security interest to remain at the table and not violate the agreement ourselves. What the president will do, that’s hard to tell. The way he makes decisions is not a traditional method used by the presidency of the United States.

Q: “Are you worried about North Korea with its nuclear weapon?”

CARDIN: “Certainly. I think North Korea with Kim Jung-Un is doing, that regime, is extremely dangerous. They are clearly developed a nuclear weapon. They are trying to develop a way to deliver that nuclear weapon that could threaten the security of the United States. They have violated the United Nations Resolutions on this. There’s been international sanctions imposed on North Korea as a result of it. We need to further isolate North Korea but then have a surge in diplomacy because there’s not a good military solution here. What we want to do is put the sufficient pressure on North Korea to change course and that means the United States working with China and Japan and South Korea to get a realistic offering to how we can get this crisis over with and put the pressure on North Korea to change directions.”

Q: “Do you see the routine from North Korea to South Korea, the recent, the reopening of negotiations across that border. Is that a good thing or is that just folly?”

CARDIN: “I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s always good to see conversations taking place. It was part of the commitment made by the new regime in South Korea – that they were going to open up more discussion with North Korea. We have the Winter Olympics which gives us an opening for the North and South to talk. I think it’s a good sign that they’re talking.”

Q: “Senator thank you very much for talking with me.”

CARDIN: “It’s always good to be with you.”