Thursday, August 22, 2019

Riverdale—For Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-16-NY), last week’s unanimous passing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, was exactly the measured signal he wanted to send to Iran.

The bill, co-authored by panel chairman Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez would grant Congress up to 52 days to review any US-led deal to trade the lifting of economic sanctions for a slowdown of Iran’s nuclear program.

The 52-day window includes a 30-day review, with an additional 12 days for a possible presidential veto and then a 10-day period for any attempt to override the veto.

The vote will go to the Senate floor and is expected to pass.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest made it clear that the President would “be willing to sign the proposed compromise.”

For Engel, this is familiar territory. As ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he co-sponsored the February 2013 Nuclear Iran Prevention Act. The legislation (HR-850), actually had 378 co-sponsors and worked to broaden economic and human rights sanctions on Iran.

Last week, Engel told the Jewish Link that he was in total support of the Senate Foreign Relation’s 19-0 vote to give Congress a say in any final deal with Iran.

“I have said from day one that I thought the Congress needs to play an important role in any negotiations with Iran,” he said. “I have conveyed that to the President, the Secretary of State in open testimony and privately. This is too important to exclude the elected bodies of the United States.”

Like many bills that come out of subcommittees, Engel said that the “devil will be in the details” once it is learned what has been agreed to and what has not between the P5+1 nations and Iran. Those nations include the US, France, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, and Germany.

Engel also expressed concern in the contradictions and messages he’s hearing from Tehran. The Iranian government has been reported as saying that economic sanctions must be lifted totally upon signature of any agreement. Engel called this “unacceptable.” He is looking for positive movement by Iran to cut back on its nuclear growth in exchange for lifting of sanctions in moderation.

“Iran is saying that the minute this deal is signed, the sanctions will be removed,” said Engel. “I hope that’s not the case. I don’t trust the Iranians. We shouldn’t be giving them something before they produce results.”

The congressman added that he has had “trouble” with the negotiations from the start.

“It’s imperative that Iran not have a nuclear weapon,” he said. “There has to be safeguards. Iran has lied and cheated before. We need to have inspectors have access to their nuclear facilities. I would have been happier if these negotiations mentioned that Iran is the financer of terrorism all over the world. Iran funds terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas while it keeps (Syrian President Bashar) al-Assad propped up and at the same time aids the rebels in Yemen.”

He said the irony of all this hasn’t escaped him that during the days of negotiations, Iran’s hard-line leaders still call for “death to Israel” and “death to America.”

“We’re talking about something as big as nuclear cutbacks, but when it comes to discussions about Iranian-financed terrorism, we’re off limits,” said Engel.

The Obama Administration has said that the details of agreement will be released in late June. Even that concerns Engel, who has long called for Iran to stop enriching it uranium during negotiations. At this point, he said that it’s important that the Congress see what the negotiations look like.

“I expect the Senate bill will pass,” said. “I’m sure there will be amendments along the way,” said Engel.

Finding an acceptable compromise or deal with Iran is not so easy, he said. “What if the answer is no to the agreement? What’s the alternative? More sanctions or military actions. That’s essentially the alternative.”

Engel said that he was also happy that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee compromised with the Administration in the language of the bill. The committee originally called for 60 days of Congressional consideration. Language in the bill calling for the President to report to Congress that Iran had ceased terrorism was removed.

Engel told the Jewish Link that he is hoping for a similar House Bill to go through his committee.

“I would eyeball any bill and wouldn’t agree to it unless I’m comfortable with it,” he said.

“We want to block Iran’s pathway to the bomb,” continued Engel. “When they start performing, then we should lessen sanctions. When they meet the terms of the deal, then we lift the sanctions. We have to be absolutely sure they are complying. There has to be unfettered IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) access.

“Iran has lied before,” he added.

By Phil Jacobs

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