Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) took a break from berating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over President Donald Trump’s Russia strategy Wednesday to lecture him about the Iran nuclear deal.
Like other Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the senior senator from Maryland probed Pompeo about Trump’s summit last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But Cardin also criticized the administration for pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal.
“I’m having a hard time understanding our strategy in regards to preventing nuclear proliferation,” he said.
Cardin might have had a similar testy exchange with another opponent of that deal — himself from three years ago. Sen. Cardin, meet Sen. Cardin.
In 2015, Cardin was one of just four Senate Democrats to buck President Barack Obama in voting against the deal, which set up an inspections regime in exchange for unfreezing Iranian assets and lifting international sanctions.
Cardin wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post claiming the agreement “legitimizes Iran’s nuclear program” and that it “would provide this legal path to a country that remains a rogue state and has violated its international nonproliferation obligations for years … Worse, Iran would be economically strengthened by frighteningly quick relief from sanctions and international economic engagement.”
Cardin also criticized the fact that the deal contained a 24-day challenge period if Iran objected to an inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and lamented that the pact failed to address the country’s ballistic missile program.
Wednesday was not the first time Cardin reversed course on the nuclear deal. He has maintained since last year that the United States should abide by the agreement he once opposed. But he lit into Pompeo in unusually harsh terms.
“In Iran, we had a commitment for a short-term ending of their nuclear program,” he said. “We were able to isolate Iran, getting the support of China, Russia and Europe. And we were able to keep the temperature down in regards to their nuclear program.”
Cardin added that Trump’s decision to withdraw and reimpose sanctions has hurt the United States.
“Now, by pulling out, we are now seeing we don’t have any commitments on the short term if Iran walks away from the agreement, because they’re already sanctioned now by the United States,” he said. “We’ve been isolated, not Iran. And of course Iran today was not pursuing a nuclear program.”