Schumer Dismantles Obama’s Iran Rhetoric, Point by Point

By David Adesnik

August 9, 2015

When Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that he would vote against the nuclear deal with Iran, he didn’t just take a position -- he rejected every major argument President Obama has made on the agreement’s behalf. Schumer argues this is not a deal that prevents Iran from getting nuclear weapons, but one that brings it to the threshold of nuclear weapons capability. He states that its verification and enforcement mechanisms are flawed. Finally, he points out it provides Iran with tens of billions of dollars it could spend on subsidizing terrorism and other violent pursuits.

If Schumer’s goal were to lose the fewest friends possible, he could have provided a tepid rationale for his position that did not lend so much credibility to the arguments made by the deal’s opponents. But Schumer also makes his arguments in a thoughtful, even courtly manner-- in sharp contrast to President Obama, who insisted in a mean-spirited address on Thursday that the merits of the deal are so obvious that one should dismiss any criticism as “knee-jerk partisanship” or mercenary opposition bought and paid for by wealthy donors.

For those in the House and Senate who remain undecided about the deal’s merits, little could be more instructive than a side-by-side comparison of Schumer and Obama’s statements, set forth in the table below:

Obama vs. Schumer on Iran




On making difficult decisions:

“I’ve had to make a lot of tough calls as President, but whether or not this deal is good for American security is not one of those calls.  It’s not even close.”

“Advocates on both sides have strong cases for their point of view that cannot simply be dismissed.”


“When we carefully examine the arguments against this deal, none of them stand up to scrutiny.  That may be why the rhetoric on the other side is so strident.  I suppose some of it can be ascribed to knee-jerk partisanship.”

“I have learned that the best way to treat such [momentous] decisions is to study the issue carefully, hear the full, unfiltered explanation of those for and against, and then, without regard to pressure, politics or party, make a decision solely based on the merits.”

On nuclear weapons:

“We have achieved a detailed arrangement that permanently prohibits Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

“If Iran’s true intent is to get a nuclear weapon, under this agreement, it must simply exercise patience.”


“This deal is not just the best choice among alternatives – this is the strongest non-proliferation agreement ever negotiated…  Let me repeat:  The prohibition on Iran having a nuclear weapon is permanent.  The ban on weapons-related research is permanent.”

“After fifteen years of relief from sanctions, Iran would be stronger financially and better able to advance a robust nuclear program. Even more importantly, the agreement would allow Iran, after ten to fifteen years, to be a nuclear threshold state with the blessing of the world community. Iran would have a green light to be as close, if not closer to possessing a nuclear weapon than it is today.”

On the likelihood of war:

“So let’s not mince words.  The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy or some form of war – a maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon.”

“I will vote to disapprove the agreement, not because I believe war is a viable or desirable option, nor to challenge the path of diplomacy. It is because I believe Iran will not change, and under this agreement it will be able to achieve its dual goals of eliminating sanctions while ultimately retaining its nuclear and non-nuclear power.”

On the durability of sanctions:

“Those who say we can just walk away from this deal and maintain sanctions are selling a fantasy.  Instead of strengthening our position as some have suggested, Congress’s rejection would almost certainly result in multilateral sanctions unraveling.”

“Better to keep U.S. sanctions in place, strengthen them, enforce secondary sanctions on other nations, and pursue the hard-trodden path of diplomacy once more, difficult as it may be.”

On inspections:

“While the process for resolving a dispute about access can take up to 24 days, once we’ve identified a site that raises suspicion, we will be watching it continuously until inspectors get in. And by the way, nuclear material isn’t something you hide in the closet.  It can leave a trace for years.  The bottom line is, if Iran cheats, we can catch them – and we will.”

“Inspections are not ‘anywhere, anytime’; the 24-day delay before we can inspect is troubling. While inspectors would likely be able to detect radioactive isotopes at a site after 24 days, that delay would enable Iran to escape detection of any illicit building and improving of possible military dimensions (PMD) – the tools that go into building a bomb but don’t emit radioactivity.”


“If there is a reason for inspecting a suspicious, undeclared site anywhere in Iran, inspectors will get that access, even if Iran objects.”

“It is reasonable to fear that, once the Europeans become entangled in lucrative economic relations with Iran, they may well be inclined not to rock the boat by voting to allow inspections.”

On Snapback Sanctions:

“If Iran violates the agreement over the next decade, all of the sanctions can snap back into place.  We won’t need the support of other members of the U.N. Security Council; America can trigger snapback on our own.”

“The ‘snapback’ provisions in the agreement seem cumbersome and difficult to use…If the U.S. insists on snapback of all the provisions, which it can do unilaterally, and the Europeans, Russians, or Chinese feel that is too severe a punishment, they may not comply.”

On funding terrorism and ballistic missiles:

“It is true that if Iran lives up to its commitments, it will gain access to roughly $56 billion of its own money – revenue frozen overseas by other countries. But the notion that this will be a game-changer, with all this money funneled into Iran’s pernicious activities, misses the reality of Iran’s current situation.”

“Under this agreement, Iran would receive at least $50 billion dollars in the near future and would undoubtedly use some of that money to redouble its efforts to create even more trouble in the Middle East, and, perhaps, beyond.”


“We need to check the behavior that we're concerned about directly:  By helping our allies in the region strengthen their own capabilities to counter a cyber-attack or a ballistic missile.”

“The hardliners can use the freed-up funds to build an ICBM on their own as soon as sanctions are lifted (and then augment their ICBM capabilities in 8 years after the ban on importing ballistic weaponry is lifted), threatening the United States.”


“If we’re serious about confronting Iran’s destabilizing activities, it is hard to imagine a worse approach than blocking this deal.”

“When it comes to the non-nuclear aspects of the deal, I think there is a strong case that we are better off without an agreement than with one.”

On the future of Iran:

“The ruling regime is dangerous and it is repressive.  We will continue to have sanctions in place on Iran’s support for terrorism and violation of human rights.  We will continue to insist upon the release of Americans detained unjustly… The deal before us doesn’t bet on Iran changing, it doesn’t require trust.”

“Ultimately, in my view, whether one supports or opposes the resolution of disapproval depends on how one thinks Iran will behave under this agreement. If one thinks Iran will moderate, that contact with the West and a decrease in economic and political isolation will soften Iran’s hardline positions, one should approve the agreement.”

On civil debate:

“I know it’s easy to play on people’s fears, to magnify threats, to compare any attempt at diplomacy to Munich.”

“While we have come to different conclusions, I give tremendous credit to President Obama for his work on this issue.”