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- As Delivered – 

WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following statement at a committee hearing addressing the implications of a nuclear agreement with Iran:  

“Thank you Mr. Chairman, thank you for your calling this hearing, and thank you for your steady leadership as we confront the problem of Iran’s nuclear program.

“To our witnesses: thank you, welcome.  It’s important that members hear views from across the spectrum as we, as we play our part and weigh a potential deal.

“I’ve said from day one, the devil is in the details, and until I know exactly what is in the deal, it’s hard to comment on, on whether it deserves support or not.  I have been troubled, as I’ve said many times, on the outset of these negotiations. 

“Firstly, I have been very troubled that Iran was continued to allow—allowed to enrich and spend centrifuges while we’re talking.  I think it would have been a heck of a lot better if Iran was told, ‘if you want to have serious negotiations with us while we talk, you stop enriching.’ But that wasn’t done, and that’s disappointing.  I’m told that Iran wouldn’t agree to it. Well, does that tell you something about their motives at the outset? 

“I’m also disturbed that we’re talking about Iran’s nuclear capability.  We’re not talking about, as the Chairman pointed out, all the destructive roles they play around the world.  The world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, somehow or another, we’re not really talking about that in these negotiations.  

“We’ve got four Americans imprisoned there.  We had a hearing in this committee not long ago. I don’t know, are they in limbo, what’s the story?  I think it’s preposterous that our people are held hostage while we’re negotiating with them.  And, the rhetoric still continues to come out. 

“Syria, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed and maimed.  The Iranians prop up the Assad regime, Hezbollah, Hamas, you name it. Yemen, they have played negative roles.  And so it’s very, very troubling. 

“And again, the devil is in the details.  I am glad that the reports are coming out that the administration is digging in its heels. A lot of people said that they would cave at the last minute on some of these issues because they wanted a deal very badly.  I think that’s being shown that it’s not the case, and that the Iranians are going to have to make some tough choices, or else we are prepared to walk away. 

“I’ve said from day one that we couldn’t want a deal more than the Iranians. If that’s the case, then they will just again dig in their heels.  So, they need to want a deal, and they need to be ready to make tough concessions.  But the Chairman pointed out some of the troubling aspects of this. 

“There are a few potential implications of a deal I’d like to touch on this morning.  One of my serious concerns throughout this process is sanctions relief.  Even if sanctions relief is gradual and conditioned on Iran’s compliance with a deal, easing sanctions will eventually, as the Chairman said, translate into a major financial windfall for Iran’s leaders.  

“Let’s think about what that means.  Even with sanctions in place, even with sanctions in place, Iran is the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world.  Even with a crumbling economy, Iran spreads its destabilizing influence in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Gaza, and among our Gulf allies.  Iran’s leaders have said they’ll use sanctions relief to help their people and shore up their economy.  I’ll believe it when I see it.

“So Congress will need to play a role here.  The House has already passed legislation to curb funding to Hezbollah, which is wreaking havoc in Lebanon and helping Assad cling to power in Syria.  I hope the Senate will act on this measure.  And however sanctions relief plays out in the Iranian deal, Congress needs to make sure our sanctions against terrorist groups remain robust and effective.  That way, no matter what Iran chooses to do with its resources, we’ll have other measures to keep funding out of terrorist hands.

“The other issue I’d like to address is how other countries across the region may respond to a deal. Iran as a nuclear threshold state would leave our ally Israel in a constant state of insecurity.  Israel must always know that we will have their back.  To deal with that challenge, we need to work with the Israelis, take a hard look at any outstanding concerns tied to this deal, and do whatever’s necessary to ensure Israel’s security.

“Likewise for our friends in the Gulf.  A nuclear arms race would create tremendous volatility in the region. Recently at Camp David, the Administration heard from our Sunni Gulf allies about their concerns over Iran’s behavior.  This summit was a good start, but more needs to be done.

“I hope our witnesses can shed some light on what steps might help shore up stability in the region in the wake of a deal.  But I think we also have to consider, and I want to raise a question I’ve asked again and again: if we don’t get a deal, what are the alternatives?

“At this point, we all know the refrain: no deal is better than a bad deal. But let’s see what the alternative would be.  The alternative to a deal, would surely mean some kind of military strikes on Iran’s nuclear plants, and would also involve sanctions.  I think when we weigh whatever final deal there is, you got to weigh with the alternative and see which alternative we like better.  There are no good choices, but it’s very, very troubling that Iran and—continues to do what it’s been doing. And that we hear negative things from the Supreme Leader, talking about all kinds of nonsense that we could not accept in any kind of a deal. 

“So we need to consider where we will find ourselves if these negotiations fail.  We cannot accept a bad deal again.  But we need to weigh the P5+1 proposal versus the alternatives.

“I look forward to hearing our witnesses’ insights on these issues, and I thank them again for their testimony.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”