WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin told WTOP on Monday that he thinks President Donald Trump has “made up his mind” to leave the Iran nuclear agreement, a move the senator said would “isolate” the U.S. in the world community.
In a series of interviews Monday, the Maryland Democrat said that by the May 12 deadline, the president will decide to reimpose sanctions on Iran. The American president must periodically decide whether to reimpose the sanctions that were waived as part of the 2015 deal.
“I think the president has made up his mind that he is going to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement,” Cardin said, adding that “the immediate impact is unclear.”
Cardin pointed out that he didn’t support the original agreement, thinking it could have been stronger. “However,” he said, “Iran’s in compliance with this agreement. When the president withdraws, he will isolate America, and I think that is not in our national security interest.”
He said that after a “cooling-off period,” Iran would likely bring charges in the United Nations, claiming that the U.S. was the one in violation of the agreement, a move that could “galvanize international support against America.”
Cardin, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, “I think we all agree with what the president wants to spotlight. … Iran is doing things that are wrong,” including the conducting of ballistic missile tests and support for terrorism in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and possibly Morocco. To do something about those problems, however, “we need our European support; we need world support,” Cardin said.
Trump has “gotten the world’s attention on needing to take Iran on the non-nuclear front. Let’s do that. Let’s build on this agreement; let’s build unity and stay in the agreement.” German President Angela Merkel and French President Emanuel Macron have met with Trump recently, in part to try to persuade him to remain in the deal, and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is in Washington this week for the same reason.
Cardin’s not on the Senate committee that will conduct confirmation hearings beginning Wednesday for Gina Haspel, Trump’s choice to head the CIA, but he said he’ll be listening with great interest.
Haspel, currently the deputy director and acting director, was a key figure during the George W. Bush administration regarding interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, that have widely been categorized as torture, as well as the destruction of videotapes recording some of those interrogations.
As a career CIA official, Haspel would be “an independent voice in the White House in regards to the intelligence community,” Cardin said. “That’s a very important qualification.”
Still, he’s concerned about the torture allegations, saying that he has problems with interrogations “that to me are against our principles and against our law.” He also wants to know her views on “legality and her responsibility as director … on using interrogation methods.”
Cardin wouldn’t say how he’ll vote until it’s all in. “I have major concerns about her past, but I will give her the benefit of the nomination hearing before reaching my decision.”
North Korea meeting
As the planned meeting between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un approaches, Cardin said, “I support the president’s initiative” to the Korean peninsula, as well as South Korean President Moon Jae-In for using Olympics to start the process.
The first objective, Cardin said, would be “a hard freeze” on North Korea’s nuclear program,” with verification and inspectors. “We don’t trust the North Koreans,” Cardin said.
The senator counseled patience and the need to involve other nations, especially China. “I don’t think we’re going to see overnight the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” Cardin said, adding that Trump had made “the right statement” by pointing to denuclearization rather than regime change as a goal, which will aid the effort to get North Korea’s allies in China involved.
“There is a path forward where diplomacy can work,” Cardin said. “But you have to be patient, and you have to work very closely not just with the South Koreans nut with the Chinese.”
The rest of the term
“This Congress still has seven months of responsibilities,” Cardin said, citing the need to pass a budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, as well as providing security for “Dreamers” — people who were brought to the country illegally years ago as children and whose status is now up in the air — as well as those from Honduras and other countries whose temporary protected status has been revoked, in some cases after decades.
They also need to pass an infrastructure bill, especially with regards to water infrastructure, and a reauthorization bill regarding air traffic control.
He also said he wants the investigation of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller protected via legislation, a move Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to allow for a vote. He’d also like to see Congress vote on a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force in the Middle East, calling the fact that the Trump administration is still working off the one passed 17 years ago in response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, “ridiculous.”