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Engel Opposes Iran Payments Bill on House Floor

ENGEL OPPOSES IRAN PAYMENTS BILL ON HOUSE FLOOR

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WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks in the House of Representatives opposing the to the Prohibiting Future “Ransom” Payments to Iran Act (H.R. 5931):

“Thank you, thank you Mr. Speaker.  I rise to oppose this bill and I yield myself as much time as I may consume.

“Thank you Mr. Speaker.  Let me start by underscoring my respect and admiration for our Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and my friend, Ed Royce.  It’s unusual that we debate a foreign-affairs bill subject to a rule, because the vast majority of our legislation is the product of strong, bipartisan collaboration.

“So I regret that the bill we’re debating today doesn’t have support across the aisle, and all you need to do is read the bill’s title to know what I mean.  There are 50 Republican sponsors and no Democrats. We really weren’t part of putting this bill together.  And again and again in the bill we see the word ‘ransom.’

“Now, I know that some of my colleagues and the Chairman believe sincerely that the latest payment to Iran was a ransom.  I happen to disagree.  I think holding Iran’s money until Iran released American detainees was a pretty shrewd bargain.  But whatever we think, using the word ‘ransom’ turns this bill into a political hot button—a poke in the eye of the Administration. 

“Now, I don’t like or trust the government of Iran.  I voted against the Iran bill last year, and it’s no secret that I have some differences with the President’s Iran policy.  But I do know that pushing legislation just to embarrass the White House won’t help to resolve those differences we might have.

“I also question the bill’s focus on cash.  Look, I share the view that any sum dumped into Iran’s bank account may be put to bad use.  But Mr. Speaker, I’d have that concern whether that money got to Iran via cash, check, wire transfer, or stacks of gold bars. 

“Money is money.  It’s fungible.  We have no way of knowing what happens to it once it’s in Iran’s hands.  We can guess, but we have no way of knowing.

“Does that irk me? Sure it does. Iran’s leaders do all sorts of things that irk me and, more important, that make the world less safe.  But whether we like it or not, the payment we’re talking about was Iran’s money.  We paid it as part of a settlement under the Algiers Accords, which the United States signed in 1981.  We’ve been making payments like this for decades, under Ronald Reagan, under George H.W. Bush, and now under Barack Obama.

“And in that time—regardless of how we sent the money—we haven’t had any control over what Iran does with it.  I agreeit’s deeply frustrating, because we know what Iran is up to.

“We can’t control that, Mr. Speaker.  But there are some things we can control.

“For instance, I agree with Chairman Royce that the way we found out about this payment gave Congress short shrift.  We did receive a briefing, but we did not learn how and when the payment was going forward.  Congress can, and should, make sure that happens with respect for future payments.  And that’s what my amendment does, which I’m going to introduce.

“In my view, that’s what the Foreign Affairs Committee would have done if we had advanced this bill according to our normal bipartisan process. Again, as I said, there was no input from the minority.  It comes to the floor with 50 Republican cosponsors and not a single Democrat.

“So, I’m not able to support the bill because it, to me it, it puts political concerns ahead of our legitimate concerns.  I share the Chairman’s feelings about Iran. I don’t think there’s a dime’s worth of difference between our feelings with Iran. It’s simply a matter of what’s the best way to go about doing it.  And I don’t think this is the best way.

“So I reserve the balance of my time.”