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 the Iran nuclear agreement.
“Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this hearing and thank you for your leadership of this Committee.
“Let me also thank our witnesses for their insight and expertise. As Congress works to address the potential deal with Iran, it’s important that we seek input from all corners of the policy arena. So, I look forward to a good discussion.
“Before we hear the testimony of our witnesses, I’d like to outline some of my reactions to the framework that’s been announced, and to outline some of my lingering questions and concerns.
“The bottom-line goal of these negotiations was to extend to one year the so-called ‘breakout period’ – the time needed for Iran to acquire enough fissile material to build a bomb – and to close all pathways for Iran to get the bomb. As I see it, if Iran adheres to the limitations—and by the way we all know that’s a big if—the announced framework takes some important steps towards that goal.
“The plan would cut by two-thirds the number of centrifuges Iran is allowed to operate. And those would only be able to employ first-generation technology. Under the framework, the Arak reactor would be overhauled, ensuring that it could never be used to produce plutonium.
“A strict inspection regime focused on Iran’s uranium mines and mills will allow us to keep a close eye on Iran’s supply of nuclear fuel, from the mines to the centrifuges and beyond, for the next quarter century. That way, if Iran wanted to build a bomb covertly, they would not only have to build a new covert facility -- they’d also need to find a new, secret source of uranium. And, the inspection and verification provisions of the NPT and its ‘Additional Protocol’ remain in effect per perpetuity.
“However, is the deal perfect? Obviously not. I still have a lot of questions and concerns.
“First of all, I always said that at the start of negotiations with Iran, we should have demanded that they stop enriching while we’re talking. I don’t think that was a big ask considering the Security Council of the United Nations has voted multiple times to tell Iran to stop enriching, but we didn’t do it.
“It bothers me, continues to bother me, that while we’re talking with Iran about their nuclear program, the same time Iran continues to be such a bad player on the world scene. We hear—just reading the papers today and this week—that the United States is contemplating intercepting Iranian missiles if they head to Yemen. To me, there is just something wrong with our negotiating with them on their nuclear weapons, and they continue to do all these things.
“They continue not only to not release Americans from their jails, but the Washington Bureau Chief of the Washington Post is indicted and they’re talking about bringing him up for trial and talking about the charges. It just irks me to no end.
“So, the Administration maintains that sanctions relief depends on Iran meeting its commitments under the comprehensive agreement. Iran is looking for sanctions relief on day one. Again, the Iranian rhetoric in this venture is not helpful. We’re told that sanctions will not be removed just upon the signing of the agreement. And yet we hear Iran’s leadership continuing to insist that it will. Maybe it’s just spin, maybe it’s just hype, but it certainly seems to me the more you spin the more times you say it, the more times there’s hype, it becomes more difficult to climb down from that position. That really bothers me.
“So, when will Iran indeed have access to $130 billion in frozen assets? What will they do with these assets? What will they fund? Whom will they support? These are all things that are obviously important to us.
“Eventually, U.N. Security Council Resolutions that impose nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be lifted. But these same Resolutions also prohibit the transfer of ballistic missile technology and conventional arms to Iran. If those restrictions disappear, then we could see even more Iranian-inspired volatility in the region and pressure on neighbors.
“We need clarity on these sanctions issues.
“In addition, the IAEA has posed a series of questions, as the chairman mentioned, on Iran’s weaponization efforts—the so-called potential military dimension or PMD. What happened at the Parchin military base, for example? How far along is Iran in the weaponization process? If Iran were to enrich enough fissile material to achieve a ‘breakout,’ how long would it then take them to then build a warhead and mate it to missile? We must have answers to these questions.
“The proposed agreement would not allow Iran to use its advanced centrifuges to produce nuclear fuel, but it would permit them to continue limited research and development on these advanced machines. What impact would this have on Iran’s breakout time after the expiration of the deal?
“And finally, we don’t know yet how disputes about potential Iranian violations will be resolved. What will happen if the U.S. determines that Iran is engaged in some activity that violates the agreement, but Russia and China disagree? What will be the process for re-imposing UN sanctions if Iran is caught cheating?
“If these questions are not resolved in a way that satisfies these concerns—concerns that Congress has outlined repeatedly—there are likely to be major, perhaps fatal, flaws in the final deal.
“And that’s why Congress must play a role in this process. I’ve said this since day one, again and again publicly. And last week’s markup in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee signaled an important shift in that direction. I look forward to reviewing what the full Senate passes on the floor, and I hope we can expeditiously consider the Corker-Cardin compromise.
“Let me close by saying that even though Iran’s nuclear program poses a major threat, it’s only one part of a much larger problem. I said that before. I am deeply concerned about Iran’s ballistic missile program and its destabilizing behavior in the region. Yet these issues are outside of the scope of the negotiations. In my mind, it’s difficult to separate the nuclear issue from Iran’s support for Hezbollah, the terrorists of Hezbollah, Hamas, President Assad, the Houthis in Yemen, or the American political prisoners in Iranian jails.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”
Watch Rep. Engel's opening statement here