Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Eliot L. Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the below remarks as prepared for delivery at Wednesday's committee hearing, “Preventing a Nuclear Iran."
The statement follows:
Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this timely hearing on our strategy to deny Iran a nuclear weapons capability.
I’d like to thank both of our witnesses for appearing today, and for your hard work on this issue.
I believe that ending the Iranian nuclear weapons program is the greatest national security challenge facing our nation. A nuclear-armed Iran, or one with a perceived nuclear weapons capability, would gravely undermine the foundations of the nuclear nonproliferation regime, and the peace, security and stability of the entire Middle East. And, since the Iranian leadership has threatened to destroy the state of Israel, the dangers from this nuclear scheme are of the highest order.
Over the last several years, this Committee has been at the forefront of efforts to enact the strongest sanctions ever levied against Iran’s nuclear program.
I continue to hope that we can achieve a peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear crisis, and these sanctions are a critical and indispensable element of our two-track diplomatic strategy – pressure and negotiations.
Secretary Sherman, in early April you represented the United States at the latest round of P5+1 negotiations with Iran in Almaty [ahl-MAH-tee], Kazakhstan. At that meeting, Iran rejected yet another offer from the P5+1, in which some international sanctions would reportedly be lifted in return for Iran suspending some of its most sensitive uranium-enrichment work. And, once again, we walked away from negotiations empty-handed.
Let’s face it: it wasn’t our willingness to talk that brought Iran to the negotiating table. The Iranian regime only responds to pressure. And I don’t think they will ever negotiate in good faith unless we continue to ratchet up the pressure. We will do just that when this Committee marks up the bipartisan Nuclear Iran Prevention Act next Wednesday.
We must act with a sense of urgency. While the regime feigns sincerity on negotiations for the international press, they continue to move full speed ahead with their nuclear weapons program. According to the IAEA, Iran is installing advanced centrifuges faster than expected, dramatically increasing the pace of uranium enrichment.
There has been no progress on the IAEA’s effort to resolve outstanding questions about the nuclear program’s military dimensions. And Iran has still not allowed IAEA inspectors access to Parchin, where the regime is almost certainly concealing illicit nuclear activities from the international community.
So with another failed round of negotiations in our rearview mirror, and with this information from the IAEA in mind, I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on what exactly is the Administration’s strategy to end Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
I would also like to hear our witnesses discuss what tools they have at their disposal to increase pressure on the Iranian regime, but have yet to utilize.
And finally, my most sensitive question: I am convinced that President Obama is serious when he says Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon on his watch. But I believe the Congress must know the following: When will the Administration be forced to abandon the diplomatic option? Secretary Kerry says we cannot let the talks become an “interminable process.” At what point should they be terminated?
I want to make something clear to Iran – your nuclear weapons program is not necessary, nor will it succeed. The United States will not allow this to happen. Congress will continue to insist on a full and sustained suspension of enrichment. We will demand clarity on the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. And we will insist that the IAEA have complete access to do its job. If rapid progress is not made in all of these areas, we will continue to press forward with even stronger sanctions.
I’m eager to hear how our witnesses assess the effectiveness of our current sanctions. And most importantly, I look forward to hearing about the Administration’s strategy to end Iran’s nuclear-weapons program once and for all.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.