- As Delivered –
WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following remarks at the full Committee hearing on confronting the full range of Iranian threats:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for calling this hearing. To our witnesses, welcome to the Foreign Affairs Committee. Thank you all for your history of service to our country. It’s very much appreciated.
“There’s no doubt whatsoever that Iran poses a grave threat to security in its neighborhood and around the globe.
“In Iran, we find the world’s number one state sponsor of terrorism, a government developing illegal and dangerous ballistic missiles that could deliver a devastating weapon, a critical lifeline to the barbarous Assad dynasty in Syria, and a regime that flouts international human-rights norms, brutally suppresses its own people, and unlawfully detains foreign citizens including Americans.
“How to grapple with this challenge is one of the most important questions for our foreign policy and for us as lawmakers.
“I’ve long advocated tougher sanctions that go after Iran’s harmful activities. Earlier this year, with the Chairman’s support, we passed into law new sanctions on Iran’s destabilizing activities, including its ballistic missile program, its support for terrorism, and its conventional arms transfers.
“This week especially, we cannot talk about how to deal with Iran without talking about the nuclear deal—whether staying in the deal will make it easier or harder to meet this challenge.
“I opposed the deal. I voted against the deal. Mr. Sullivan, I say this with respect and gratitude for your hard work to bring Iran to the negotiating table, but I felt the sunset provisions left too short a time before Iran could become a legitimate nuclear power. I also felt that Iran being the number one state sponsor of terrorism would reap a windfall in money from this agreement and therefore could use it and would use it to carry out its terrorist activities to an even greater state than they have been in the past.
“But I was on the losing side of that debate. But since the deal was reached, like the Chairman, I’ve called for it to be strictly enforced while we look for other ways to address the range of non-nuclear challenges coming out of Iran.
“So today, the Administration seems poised to take the first step in withdrawing from the JCPOA. I must say that I view that course as a grave mistake. The United States, we in the United States, have to live up to our word.
“If we withdraw from the deal now, Iran would be free today from the constraints on their program and the intrusive inspections that the JCPOA puts into place.
“They could race headlong toward a nuclear bomb, hold all of the benefits of sanctions relief, and continue fomenting instability across the region. We need to work with allies and partners on a shared agenda that holds the regime in Tehran accountable, not dividing America from our closest friends across the globe. If we pull out of the deal, I believe we lose whatever leverage we have to drive that agenda.
“At the same time, walking away from the JCPOA would announce to the world—to our friends and adversaries alike—that the United States cannot be counted on to keep its word.
“In North Korea, we’re staring down a rogue regime that already has nuclear weapons. If we pull out of the Iran deal, we would lose all credibility as we try to negotiate with the regime in Pyongyang on nuclear disarmament.
“One of the arguments I’ve heard in the last week is that the Administration should withhold certification, but that we should stay in the deal anyway.
“I think that’s trying to have it both ways—doesn’t work. I think it’s a political cover for opponents of the deal who have been saying for years that we should withdraw and who are now having second thoughts. I think it’s a distraction from the real issues involving Iran that demand our attention. And I think it’s playing with fire.
“Failing to certify the deal is the first step toward ending it. That’s how governments around the world will perceive it—possibly including Iran—which could spark a second nuclear crisis on top of North Korea.
“We need to be tough on Iran. We need tough sanctions and multilateral action to make clear that the regime will face consequences for its dangerous activities. We need to reclaim the mantle of leadership, bring countries together, and hold Tehran accountable.
“Saying we’re going to tear up the deal sounds like tough talk, but I don’t believe it won’t help us meet this challenge. It would merely hamper our ability to make progress, to get tougher in the areas where we can. It would be cutting off our nose to spite our face.
“So I hope the President heeds the advice of Secretary Mattis and others. I hope he understands the importance of the United States keeping its commitments. If we’re serious about cracking down on Iran, the best path forward is to stick with the deal—despite what I view as its flaws—and hold Iran strictly to its obligations. That will put us in a far better position to address all the other problems Iran is stirring up.
“So I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on these questions. Thank you again Mr. Chairman. I yield back.”
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