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Engel Opening Statement at Iran Hearing

WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks at a Committee hearing on nuclear negotiations with Iran:

“Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing.  Let me thank our witnesses for appearing today.  Ambassador Sherman, Under Secretary Cohen, we have met with you many times, and America thanks you for the good work both of you have done and continue to do.

“After six months of talk between the P5 +1 and Iran under the Joint Plan of Action, the parties have agreed to an extension for four months.  I support this extension, but not indefinitely. 

“Over the next four months, Iran will continue to abide by all of the restrictions in the JPOA and undertake two new commitments.  First, converting its 20 percent enriched uranium oxide into nuclear fuel rods. These rods are very difficult to convert back into a form that could be used for a nuclear weapon.  Secondly, diluting its up-to-two-percent stockpile.   In exchange, Iran will have access to an additional $2.8 billion in frozen assets. 

The JPOA has led to some positive outcomes.  Iran’s economy continues to feel the pressure of international sanctions.  Limitations on enrichment have lengthened the period of time to Iran’s nuclear breakout point.  If the United States and our allies think there may be a light at the end of the tunnel, then it’s worth pursuing this track for a little bit longer.

“But as we move forward, I’m reminded of what Secretary Kerry said at the start of the process: no deal is better than a bad deal.  What was true six months ago is true now.  So today I hope we can take a hard look at some of the remaining concerns.  No deal is better than a bad deal. I hope though that we will all agree on what a bad deal is, and what a good deal is.

“First, I want to reiterate my disappointment that Iran has been allowed to continue enriching under the JPOA.  Especially after negotiating the nuclear gold standard deal with the United Arab Emirates, Iran doesn’t seem like the best candidate for even a civil nuclear program. 

“I’m curious what we would need to see from the Iranians in order for them to prove that their nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.  In addition, the JPOA deals with declared facilities. What concerns me more is the possibility that there are undeclared facilities.  We all know that Iran excels in keeping its nuclear program under a cloak of secrecy. They built their Fordow enrichment facility into the side of a mountain.  So while Iran has given the IAEA access to their declared facilities, I worry that there are other facilities that we don’t know about.  They’ve done it before, and they could do it again.

“Looking down the line, I am also concerned about what Iran could get in return for a comprehensive deal.  Iran currently has over $100 billion in frozen assets abroad.  That doesn’t even include the money that Iran could make if oil sanctions were lifted and business life were to return to normal.  Money could still be used to finance Iran’s destabilizing activities across the region, even if sanctions relief were to come in phases. 

“You know, you look at the Israeli-Gaza war, the Israeli-Hamas war right now, and Hamas being a terrorist organization.  They have gotten nearly all of their weapons and missiles from Iran. So it’s not only a matter of Iran’s nuclear problems, it’s a matter that Iran continues to be the largest supporter of terrorism around the world.

“Iran continues to be the leading state sponsor of terrorism, providing support to Hamas and Hezbollah.  Iran continues to prop up the murderous Assad regime, and continues to oppress its own people.  We will need assurances that sanctions relief doesn’t just mean funneling more money into the hands of terrorists.

“I would be delighted if the Iranians agreed to a deal that foreclosed any pathway to a nuclear bomb.   But just as President Obama put the chance of success at 50-50, I too remain skeptical.  We cannot afford a bad deal that will threaten our allies and our interests.  And we must be prepared to walk away, if necessary. 

“And if negotiations go south, we must be prepared to level additional sanctions to squeeze Iran’s economy.  Iran must understand that all their actions have consequences. As the chairman just pointed out, the bill that both of us authored, passed with over 400 votes, or 400 votes of the entire House, and passed unanimously out of this committee. All Democrats and all Republicans voted for the bill. The Congress feels very, very strongly that sanctions should be right there so that Iran will understand what it faces if it doesn’t negotiate in good faith. And of course, when we look at the bottom-line for these negotiations, we want to see the timetable pushed back, so it will take Iran a longer time to have breakout in producing a bomb. Obviously, that’s something that we’re all concerned with and must be iron-clad into the negotiations—into the final agreement.

“So Mr. Chairman, let me say this: there is no difference between Democrats and Republicans on this issue. We understand that Iran is a bad player. We understand that Iran doesn’t negotiate in good faith. And we understand that Iran must understand that all options remain on the table, and that those are not mere words—that those words have teeth. If the Iranians believe all options are on the table, perhaps they will begin to negotiate in good faith.  If they really don’t believe that, there is little [incentive] for them to negotiate in good faith.

“So again, I thank our witnesses for being here today, and I look forward to their testimony.”

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