WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks at a hearing of the full Committee about verification of Iran’s nuclear compliance:
“Thank you. Thank you very much Mr. Chairman. You know, you and I have made a great deal—as have other members of our Committee—about the bipartisan nature of our Committee and how you and I have worked hard to make this the most bipartisan Committee in the Congress. I must say after listening to your opening statement, I agree with it fully. I share your concerns and I think these are concerns of many, many members of this Committee on both sides of the aisle. So I want to thank you for calling this timely and important hearing. And as the P5+1 and Iran continue to negotiate a potential agreement on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, we need to carefully examine how such a deal could be fully verified.
“What are the requirements for a final deal? What safeguards are needed to give us confidence that Iran has truly ceased its drive to develop a nuclear weapons capability?
“According to the IAEA, the Joint Plan of Action interim agreement has paused many of Iran’s advancements toward a nuclear weapon. However, if this temporary agreement became permanent, it would certainly be inadequate. The status quo would leave us with too many unanswered questions and an Iran that is too close to a nuclear breakout point. A comprehensive agreement is necessary to end the permanent threat of a nuclear Iran.
“We’re just weeks away from the July 20th deadline that the Joint Plan of Action set for a comprehensive deal. There have already been rumblings that an extension will be needed. Just last week, the head of the IAEA made clear that his agency would not be able to finish its ongoing investigation of Iran’s nuclear program before July 20th. That actually might work in our interests if negotiations are continuing but there’s no deal and we need an extension.
“The negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran have taken place behind closed doors, so we cannot evaluate the specific details of the potential deal that’s being discussed. I hope that we will have an opportunity to hear from the Administration in open session, when appropriate.
“Whatever its final form, it’s safe to say that this deal will not be based, as you said Mr. Chairman, on Ronald Reagan’s old axiom, “Trust but verify.” On the contrary, there is a tremendous amount of mistrust between the parties—and the Iranians deserve every ounce of suspicion. Tehran has spent years developing a covert nuclear program and has brazenly violated its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty.
“Under this cloud of mistrust, we must carefully examine one of the most important parts of the deal: how do we verify Iran’s compliance? Iran may not make a mad dash for the bomb, but everything I have seen and know about the Iranian regime tells me that they will try to push the boundaries of any comprehensive agreement and test the will of the international community to respond.
“One of my primary concerns is that even if negotiators are able to reach a deal, we still don’t know what we don’t know. Building covert facilities, illicitly procuring equipment, outsourcing its program elsewhere—these steps could put Iran back on the path to a nuclear weapon.
“Mr. Chairman, today’s hearing is important because Congress has an important role to play in this deal. I want to reiterate that. Congress has an important role to play in this deal. Any long-term sanctions relief must, and I say must, be approved by Congress. And to pass such relief, we will have to be convinced that the deal on the table is a good one. Which brings us back to the key questions facing our panel today: What are the minimum requirements for a good deal? I know what Secretary Kerry has said: no deal is better than a bad deal. I agree. The question is, will we agree on what is a good deal? What sort of verification measures will be needed to give us full confidence that Iran isn’t cheating or, worse, attempting to break out? And finally, if we can’t reach a deal with strong verification measures, what is the alternative?
“You know, I have been troubled by the negotiations with Iran. I hope we do have a comprehensive agreement, I hope it’s verifiable, and I hope that we’re pleased with it. But you know, what troubles me is while we are negotiating with Iran, they still continue to enrich. And it seemed to me that we could have and should have made a deal saying to the Iranians if you want to talk to us for six months, you stop enriching while we’re talking. I don’t think that was so much to ask, and the fact that it wasn’t done troubles me. I am told it wasn’t done because Iran wouldn’t agree to it. Well, if they didn’t agree to something as simple as that, what does that tell us, I fear, about their agreements to any kind of—their acquiescence to any kind of comprehensive agreement?
“And so I welcome the testimony of our panel of expert witnesses to help answer these critical questions. But as far as I am concerned, I want to see a dismantling of Iran’s program, not just a point where they’re at nuclear breakout capacity, not at the point where we perhaps push them back a few months. I want to see them dismantle their program.
“And I thank you, Mr. Chairman.”