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Engel Opening Statement at Full Committee Hearing “The Iran Nuclear Deal: Does it Further U.S. National Security?”

Washington D.C. – Ranking Member Eliot L. Engel, the senior Democratic member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, gave the following statement, as prepared for delivery, at today’s Full Committee hearing “The Iran Nuclear Deal: Does it Further U.S. National Security?”

The statement follows:

“Secretary Kerry, thank you for appearing before the Committee today, and for your tireless efforts to enhance the security and prosperity of the United States. And thank you Chairman Royce for calling this hearing on an issue that I consider to be of paramount importance to American national security.”

“Upon taking office nearly five years ago, President Obama inherited an almost non-existent strategy to deal with the looming threat of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapons capability.”

“The President initially focused on the diplomatic track, but the limitations of that one-dimensional approach soon became apparent when Iran walked away from the P5+1 negotiations in October 2009.”

“After that, the Administration shifted to a ‘two track strategy,’ which coupled engagement with increasing economic pressure through sanctions, while making clear that ‘all options remain on the table.’ This is the policy I favored, and the President, together with Secretary Clinton, succeeded beyond expectations in uniting the international community against Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The UN Security Council and the European Union, acting in parallel with our efforts, imposed tough new sanctions on Iran.”

“This Committee took the lead, on a bi-partisan basis, to pass biting sanctions legislation designed to cripple the Iranian economy – giving the Administration the tools it needed to change the calculus of the Iranian regime.”

“Over the last three years, President Obama has signed four major Iran sanctions bills into law. Taken together with international sanctions, this has made it exceeding difficult for Iran to sell its oil on the global markets, cut off Tehran from the international financial system, and severely limited Iran’s access to hard currency.”

“Several weeks ago, thanks to sustained efforts by Congress and the Administration, the Iranians finally admitted that the sanctions are hurting them badly. And for the first time, they started talking about the specifics of a negotiated settlement to curtail their nuclear program.”

“As all of us know, the P5+1 reached an interim agreement with Iran at the end of November. Secretary Kerry, I want to commend you for your incredible personal efforts to secure this deal – it makes me tired just watching all of your travel back and forth across the Atlantic and around the world.”

“Having said that, I want to make it clear that I have some serious reservations about this agreement. First and foremost, it seems to me that -- at a minimum -- it should have required Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, as demanded by numerous UN Security Council resolutions.”

“Mr. Secretary, you and other Administration officials have sought to make the case that the interim agreement will place significant restraints on the Iranian nuclear program – and not allow it to advance - while we negotiate a long-term settlement to eliminate the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapons capability once and for all. You have also said that the sanctions relief we are providing is very limited and reversible. I hope you’re right, and I’m sure you’ll agree with me that the interim agreement must be fully implemented and completely verified. I can assure you that Congress will act immediately to ratchet up the pressure at the first sign of cheating or backtracking by Iran.”

“Mr. Secretary, I hope you can confirm for the Committee today that the Administration will continue to enforce all sanctions that remain in place during the implementation of the interim agreement, and that you will not hesitate to designate additional entities for sanctions over the next six months as circumstances warrant. In addition, I hope you will send a clear message to businesses all over the world that now is not the time to make plans to re-enter Iran.”

“In order for me to support a comprehensive agreement, restraints must be put in place to assure us that Iran cannot continue down the path of a nuclear weapon. In that context, Secretary Kerry, I hope you will address the following questions in our discussion today.”

“First, if Iran retains any enrichment capacity, how can we be sure that they will not forever remain on the brink of a breakout capacity? Second, why do many of our closest regional allies feel the interim deal caught them by surprise? And what are you doing to make certain they are included as negotiations continue on a final deal? Third, why does the Administration strongly oppose congressional action on Iran sanctions legislation that makes clear new sanctions will not be imposed unless Iran violated the terms of the interim deal?”

“Now that we have an interim deal, we must focus with laser-like intensity on ensuring that any long-term agreement dismantles all Iranian nuclear infrastructure that could lead to a breakout capacity. Any deal which does not achieve that goal will be a devastating failure.”

“Mr. Secretary, it is critical that you and the President consult very closely with Congress as you implement the interim agreement and negotiate a final deal. Waivers in existing sanctions legislation will only get you so far, and it is likely that Congress would have to pass legislation to implement any comprehensive deal. But it will be impossible to take that step unless members of this Committee and the full House are fully informed and absolutely convinced that Iran has agreed to verifiably abandon its efforts to develop a nuclear weapons capability.”

“Finally, Mr. Secretary, as you continue to engage with the Iranians, I would urge you to remain cognizant of the fact that Iran remains the top state sponsor of terrorism in the world, continues to support Hezbollah and the brutal Assad regime in Syria, continues to engage in systematic violations of human rights, continues its efforts to destabilize a number of Persian Gulf states, and continues to imprison innocent Americans. All of this under the ‘moderate’ Rouhani government.”

“Again, I’d like to thank you for appearing today. I look forward to hearing your testimony.”


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