Wednesday Q+A With Ben Cardin

The ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee talks Iran, North Korea, and Chairman Bob Corker’s retirement.

Sen. Ben Cardin
Chet Susslin
Adam Wollner
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Adam Wollner
Oct. 3, 2017, 8 p.m.

Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, has served as the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since 2015. He recently sat down with Adam Wollner in his office to discuss the Iran nuclear deal, diplomacy with North Korea, and the future of the committee after Chairman Bob Corker retires next year.

If President Trump decides not to recertify the Iran nuclear deal ahead of the Oct. 15 deadline, what should the next steps be?

What I would hope the Trump administration has been doing is working first with our European allies, then also with Russia and China, as to how we can impose additional sanctions against Iran for their non-nuclear violations of international agreements. From everything we’ve been told, Iran is in compliance with the nuclear agreement. … Listening to Ambassador [Nikki] Haley and listening to the president’s speech at the United Nations, it looks like they were considering—I don’t know whether the decision has been made—that they would not certify that it’s in our national security interest to continue the nuclear agreement, but allow the sanction relief to continue, saying to Congress, “It’s now up to you.” That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. The authority to grant sanctions relief is based upon presidential discretion on national security. Secondly, although I opposed the nuclear agreement, and I still believe that should not have been entered into, it is an agreement that America signed. … If the United States were to walk away from that agreement, our credibility to adhere to any international agreements, and our ability to charge North Korea with any violations of Security Council resolutions, would be very much questioned.

Will the latest round of sanctions be enough to rein in North Korea? What would you like to see happen next?

We need to work with the international community, including Russia, to get stronger sanctions against North Korea. But that’s not enough. What needs to be done in addition to the sanctions is a surge in diplomacy, particularly with one country, and that is China. China and the United States have a common agenda. Both countries do not want to see North Korea pursue its nuclear-weapons program. China and North Korea have a common agenda. And even though China is not crazy about the King Jong-un regime, it wants to preserve a communist North Korea. … What China needs to understand is the U.S.’s intentions. I expect that they think the United States favors regime change. We’ve got to make it clear that our objective is about a nuclear North Korea, not regime change. … If China is convinced of U.S. intentions, they can turn up the pressure on North Korea.

Have you gotten a sense whether Senate leadership is interested in voting on an updated Authorization for Use of Military Force for the fight against terrorism?

I don’t think the Republican leadership is interested in bringing this issue to the floor of the Senate. One, I don’t think there is unity in the Republican Conference. Secondly, it would be a challenge to figure out how this would get done. It would be a confrontation between Congress and the Trump administration since the Trump administration has specifically said they don’t want additional authorizations. So I think the Republican leadership has already had its issues with the Trump administration and they’re not prepared to take on another. That’s wrong. They should.

At the very least, will the Foreign Relations Committee have a markup on a new AUMF bill?

I don’t think that Senator Corker will have our committee move forward with a markup unless he sees the light at the end of the tunnel with his leadership.

How will the committee be most affected by Corker’s retirement?

Senator Corker is an incredible chairman, one that has the full respect of all members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has spent a deal of his own personal energy and time to understand foreign policy and has gone out of his way to homogenize the view of all members of his committee so that we come out in a united front on major foreign-policy issues. … There is a long-standing tradition in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to work in a nonpartisan manner. … Senator Corker continued that tradition, and I’m very grateful for it as ranking member.

Senator James Risch is next in line in seniority for the Republicans on the committee. Would Senator Risch be an effective chairman?

I know Senator Risch very well; I have a great deal of confidence in Senator Risch. We’re personal friends. Of course, I am hopeful that if seniority prevails he’ll be the ranking member.

Have you declared whether you will run for reelection in 2018?

I have not declared, but I will be here two years from now.

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