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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 the nuclear agreement with Iran. This hearing is part of the 60-day review period allowing Members of Congress to assess the deal and its implications for U.S. national security and American interests abroad:   


“Well, thank you, thank you Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling today’s hearing.  And thank you for your steady leadership of this committee.


“Welcome to our witnesses. Congress established this 60-day review period so that we could take the necessary time to thoroughly assess the deal on Iran’s nuclear program.  It’s important that we get input from a range of voices, and we’re grateful for your time.  So thank you for coming to testify here this morning.


“We’ve now had a few days to look at this deal.  We’ve heard from Secretary Kerry, Secretary Lew, Secretary Moniz behind closed doors yesterday.  Next week, we’ll hear from them again right here in this Committee. 


“And obviously this is a very complex agreement.   It’s possibly the most important issue some of us will ever deal with as Members of Congress.  It demands close analysis and informed deliberation.


“While I’m still reviewing the agreement, I must say I do have some serious questions and concerns about certain aspects of the deal.  And I’m going to get right to them.


“First of all, I’d like to know more about access to undeclared sites.  The Administration has assured us that no site is off limits for the inspectors.  That’s a good thing.  But inspectors are unlikely to have on-demand access to undeclared sites.  Iran can take 14 days to comply with an IAEA request for access.   That’s problematic.


“Suppose after that, Iran still blocks the way.  Members of the Joint Commission could take another seven days to resolve the IAEA's concerns.  Iran then has three more days to provide access.


“And if Iran continues to say no, another month could go by while the dispute resolution mechanisms run their course.  My concern is that Iran could use that time period to sanitize sites and avoid detection if they’re breaking the rules. 


“Secondly, I’d like to look at the arms embargo and ballistic missile sanctions.  For months and months, we were told these programs were off the table.  But under the agreement, the ban and embargo will be lifted in a few years.   To me, that seems like throwing fuel on the fire.  If the deal goes forward, we need to think long and hard about what steps we can take to prevent Iran from causing even more trouble in the region once these restrictions are lifted.


“On the topic of sanctions relief, I’m concerned about what Iran will do when sanctions are phased out and the spigot is turned back on.  Iran is obviously a bad actor.  This is a regime that orchestrates coups, supports terrorist groups, violates the human rights of its own people, and projects instability and violence across its neighborhood. 


“Iran may use these new resources—tens of billions of dollars—to improving the lives of the Iranian people.  But I’m willing to bet such programs won’t come at the expense of Hezbollah, Shia militias, Hamas, or the Assad regime.  How can the United States help mobilize an international effort to stem the flow of resources to Iran’s violent and dangerous allies?


“Next, I’m concerned about what happens when the research and development ban is lifted.  For eight years, Iran is limited in its development of advanced centrifuges.  Without these limits, Iran could quickly reduce its breakout time or develop a covert program.  But after year eight, Iran can quickly move towards the, and I quote, ‘next stage of its enrichment activities.’  After that part of the deal expires, is there anything we could do to prevent Iran from making rapid progress on its nuclear technology? 


“Finally, I have a fundamental concern that 15 years from now, Iran will essentially be off the hook.  If they choose, Iran’s leaders could produce weapons-grade, highly enriched uranium without any limitation.  And they can do so faster than they could before with more advanced centrifuges.  What can we do to ensure that we just don’t find ourselves in the same place we are today in the year 2030?  Because the truth is, after 15 years, Iran is legitimized as a threshold state.  After year 15, there are no restrictions on producing highly enriched uranium.  That’s troublesome.  As we consider these issues, and people will say, ‘Well, what this does, is it doesn’t prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon, it just postpones it.’  That’s trouble for me. 


“As we consider these issues, we must ask ourselves an important question as well, to be fair: what is the alternative to this specific deal?  If this deal doesn’t go forward, can our sanctions regime and the P5+1 coalition hold?  Would renewed pressure bring the Iranians back to the table, if this deal fails?  Would new sanctions have to be coupled with military action? I hope as our witnesses testify today, they bear that context in mind.


“So I look forward to hearing from all of you, and I thank you again for your testimony and your time.  And I yield back.”