Washington D.C. – Ranking Member Eliot Engel, the senior Democratic member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, made the following remarks at a Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) panel regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

“Good evening everyone. I want to begin by thanking the JCRC for inviting me to join this panel tonight. The JCRC’s work on Israel advocacy and social justice issues have been an inspiration and an asset to me in my years of public service.”

“As the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I have made it a top priority to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program and hold them accountable for their nefarious actions around the world.”

“As you all know, the government of Iran poses a significant threat to the United States, Israel, and many other friends and allies. The Iranian government remains the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism; they are the patron of Hezbollah; it is actively supporting the slaughter of tens of thousands in Syria; it is working to destabilize our allies in the Gulf; and many hardliners, if they had their way, would wipe Israel off the map.”

“Knowing of Iran’s dangerous behavior and continuing efforts to spread their Shia revolution, I believe preventing a nuclear armed Iran is the top national security challenge the United States faces today. Many experts believe that Iran is approximately a year away from having a nuclear weapons capability, and we cannot allow that to happen.”

“There is some good news on our efforts to prevent the Iranian bomb from becoming a reality – the successive sanctions bills passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama, taken together with international sanctions, are devastating the Iranian economy. Iran is having trouble selling its oil on the global markets, and they’ve been cut off from the international financial system. Their economy and their government are starved for hard currency.”

“Our goal is not to make ordinary Iranians suffer, but increasingly tough sanctions are the only means we have – short of military action -- to try to alter the Iranian government’s calculus and convince them that their nuclear weapons program is untenable.”

“I am convinced that Iran’s Supreme Leader would not have allowed the so-called moderate Rouhani to win the recent Iranian election if Iran had the same resources and economic strength it had was five years ago. And I’m certain that Rouhani would not have come to the recent UN meeting in New York with a smile on his face and a willingness to negotiate were it not for our sanctions that are making it so difficult for Iran’s government and economy to function.”

“It is pressure that brought Iran to the table, and this pressure must be maintained until Iran has verifiably dismantled its nuclear weapons program.”

“The Iranians are masters at negotiation for the sake of buying time. We must remember that Rouhani formerly served as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, and he has bragged about deceiving the West in previous negotiations. So while we must have a genuine openness to a diplomatic process that resolves all outstanding issues, we must judge Iran by its actions, not the flowery rhetoric of Rouhani and other top officials.”

“Last week in Geneva, the Iranians put a new offer on the table. For the first time, the Iranians admitted that the sanctions are hurting them badly. For the first time, they started talking about the specifics of a settlement. Now, we are not naïve – it may be more of the same stalling. But if there is a chance – any chance – for a peaceful resolution that is real, that is enforceable, and that would lift the threat to the Middle East, then we must pursue that chance to see if it can be made to work. There is little time, but there is enough time to test Iran’s intentions.”

“Earlier this year, the House passed a new Iran sanctions bill, which I co-authored along with Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce. The Senate Banking Committee is scheduled to take up similar legislation in the near future.”

“I would be open to freezing further legislative action on this new sanctions bill if Iran quickly takes a number of concrete and fully verifiable steps. First, Iran must freeze all enrichment, as demanded repeatedly by the UN Security Council. It must stop the installation of new centrifuges, and halt construction of the Arak heavy water reactor, which could produce plutonium. It must agree to remove all of its 20 percent enriched uranium from the country. Finally, it must allow comprehensive nuclear inspections by the IAEA. If Iran takes all of these steps, and they are fully verified, there will be no immediate need for additional nuclear sanctions.”

“After Iran has taken additional steps to verifiably dismantle all elements of its nuclear weapons program, then – and only then -- we can start a discussion about softening the blow of the current sanctions regime.”

“To summarize, I believe that President Obama and Congress must continue to demonstrate our seriousness at every opportunity, and that all options to solve this problem must remain on the table.”

“I think I’ll stop there. Thank you again for having me and I look forward to your questions.”