Dem Rep. Engel Warns Obama on Iran: "Any Attempts To Sidestep Congress Will Be Resisted On Both Sides Of The Aisle"

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REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D-NY): Thank you, very much, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for calling this very important and timely hearing.

Mr. Deputy Secretary, Mr. Under Secretary: welcome to our Committee. We’re grateful for your service, and we look forward to your testimony. And I want to congratulate both of you on your new positions.

The Chairman’s remarks are very similar to mine. We have worked very hard on this Committee to have bipartisanship because both the Chairman and I agree that if there’s one place where we need bipartisanship more than any other place, it involves foreign policy. And so wherever possible, we try to talk with one voice. And I want to associate myself with the Chairman’s remarks.

We’ve seen a lot of speculative reporting in the press about might or might not be included in a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran. Today, we’re going to send over a letter to the President signed by 360 Members of Congress in both parties, a majority of each party, talking about some of the things that we’re concerned with and we would hope that we could get a prompt response from the White House. It’s truly a very bipartisan letter expressing Congress’s strong feelings about things that need to be in the agreement.

I want to emphasize—reemphasize—what the Chairman said. There really cannot be any marginalization of Congress. Congress really needs to play a very active and vital role in this whole process, and any attempts to sidestep Congress will be resisted on both sides of the aisle.

We’ve seen a lot of speculative reporting in the press about [what] might or might not be included in a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran. We don’t technically even know right now if there’s going to be a deal. But if there is, I think we would all be wise to review the details before passing judgment on whether it’s a good deal, a bad deal, or simply a deal we can live with.

I think it’s safe to assume that we’re not going to see what I would consider a perfect deal. I’ve said all along that Iran should have been required to freeze enrichment during negotiations. But they weren’t, and it’s clear that a freeze is not on the table for a comprehensive agreement.

At this stage, we need to focus on making the deal as good as it can be. I’m hoping that our witnesses can shed light on a few key areas that, for me, could tip the scales between a bad deal and a deal that we might be able to live with.

First, as part of any comprehensive agreement, we need total clarity about where Iran stands in terms of its ability to weaponize its nuclear material. How far along are they?

Secondly, will the deal give us sufficient time to respond if Iran reneges and presses full-throttle toward a nuclear weapon? Is a one-year “breakout period”—the time until Iran has sufficient enriched uranium to then build a bomb—is that enough time to catch their violation and react?

Next, how would a comprehensive agreement stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon covertly if they make a decision to “sneak out” rather than “break out?” Iran’s leaders don’t deserve an ounce of trust. We need very strong safeguards.

Lastly, how will we be certain that sanctions relief won’t just open the faucet for funding terrorism or fuel the regime’s already abysmal human rights record?

In my view, these questions lay out clear markers for what we need to see.

Here’s the bottom line: if we say yes to a deal, will it be worth unraveling the decades of sanctions and pressure that the United States and our partners have built against Iran? But if we say no, would we be able to hold the sanctions coalition together? And if we maintain or even increase our sanctions, wouldn’t Iran just move full speed ahead toward a bomb?

I know these negotiations have gone on for months and months. I know the P5+1 is under intense pressure to produce something. But we cannot allow those factors to push us into a bad deal being sold as a good deal.

The Administration has argued that reaching a deal is the best chance to solve the nuclear crisis diplomatically and avoid another war in the Middle East—that dialing up sanctions at this stage would undermine the talks. And as I have repeatedly said, I am willing to see what is actually in the deal before passing judgment. And I strongly urge my colleagues to do the same.

But make no mistake: Congress will play an important role in the evaluation of a final deal. Again, I want to say that I will not stand by and allow Congress to be marginalized. Any permanent repeal of sanctions is, by law, Congress’s discretion. And before we do that, we must be completely convinced that this deal blocks all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear bomb.

So I look forward to your testimony and hope we can have a frank discussion of these issues. And again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this hearing today.

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