Menendez: Nuclear deal with Iran is only the first step

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) questioned on Thursday what would happen to relationships between the U.S. and countries in the Middle East if a nuclear deal with Iran is reached.

Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made the remarks during a committee hearing titled "Regional implications of a nuclear deal with Iran." The hearing focused on how the U.S. should prepare if a deal is reached with Iran.

"In my view, 'success' will not be defined exclusively by whether or not we get a 'good' deal with Iran," Menendez said. "The illicit nuclear program is only one pillar of much broader and equally troubling Iranian actions. Iranian support for terrorism goes back decades and, as we speak, Iran is actively cultivating terrorist networks and violent proxies across the region - in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen, the Palestinian territories and beyond."

Menendez said U.S. partners in the Persian Gulf are concerned about terrorism sponsored by Iran. He said if the U.S. reaches a nuclear deal with Iran, allies in the region must be reassured that the U.S. is committed to their security.

"It's clear to me that our partners across the region are adopting hedging strategies toward Iran because U.S. commitment to the region is being actively questioned in light of our engagement with Iran and our hesitancy in Syria," Menendez said. "This is evidenced by the string of Iranian official meetings and visits that has evolved from a trickle to a deluge."

Menendez said the U.S. must be aware of Iranian motivations in pursuing a deal.

"Is it merely about sanctions relief for the leadership in Tehran?" Menendez said. "Or is this about a broader realignment that could have serious strategic implications for the multi-dimensional chess game being played across the Middle East?"