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JOHNSON OPENING STATEMENT AT HEARING EXPLORING BILATERAL NUCLEAR AGREEMENT WITH IRAN

December 12, 2013

WASHINGTON – Today, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SD) held a hearing titled “Assessing the P5+1 Interim Nuclear Agreement with Iran: Administration Perspectives.”

Below is Chairman Johnson’s statement as prepared for delivery:

“I call this hearing to order. Yesterday, all Senators had a chance to hear directly from Secretaries Lew and Kerry and senior intelligence officials on the first step nuclear agreement reached in Geneva between the P5+1 and Iran. Today we will delve into the agreement in greater detail, assess prospects for a final agreement, and explore the likely effects of Congressional action on new sanctions legislation at this time, to which the President and his Secretary of State strongly object.

“I have talked with various members of the Committee about these issues, and ensured that all members have had opportunities to be briefed repeatedly by Secretaries Kerry and Lew, and the intelligence community, on the ongoing Geneva negotiations. Let me be clear. I support strong sanctions, and authored many of the US sanctions currently in place. I have negotiated a new bipartisan sanctions bill with my Ranking Member that could be finalized and moved quickly if Iran fails to comply with the terms of the first step agreement in Geneva, or if negotiations collapse. Sanctions have been an effective tool of coercive diplomacy, crippling Iran’s economy, sharply curtailing its oil revenues, and helping to persuade the Iranian people to vote for new leadership.

“It now appears that some of Iran’s leaders have recognized that the only way to relieve the economic pressure and lessen Iran’s international isolation is to reach agreement with the West to halt its illicit nuclear activities. Time will tell if that is true – but only if Congress is willing to provide that time. Some have argued that acting on a bill now, as long as it does not become effective in 6 months, gives the administration additional leverage in negotiations. The President disagrees, arguing that Congressional action on new sanctions would be taken as a sign of bad faith by our P5+1 partners and by Iran, and could erode or even unravel the sanctions regime.

“The history of our relationship with Iran is littered with missed opportunities, on both sides. I want to assess the formal analysis the Committee is to receive today from the Director of National Intelligence on the effects on negotiations and on our P5+1 partners of Congressional action on new sanctions, but I agree that the administration’s request for a diplomatic pause is reasonable. A new round of US sanctions now could rupture the unity of the international coalition against Iran’s nuclear program. Existing sanctions will continue to bite, and to bite hard. Commentators from left to right and all of my colleagues involved in this effort have acknowledged this; it is not a matter of controversy.

“Now that Iran has come to the table and entered into this first step agreement, I believe this may well be the last best chance to resolve this crisis by diplomacy, and so the President is absolutely right to fully test Iran’s leaders. And I will be vigilant to ensure the Joint Action Plan is strictly enforced. I have requested, along with Chairmen Levin and Feinstein, regular briefings on compliance from the intelligence community. In the meantime, we should not do anything counterproductive that might shatter Western unity on this issue – we should make sure that if the talks fail, it was Iran that caused their failure. We should not give Iran, the P5+1 countries or other nations a pretext to lay responsibility for their collapse on us. Ultimately, while some of us might differ on tactics, it is clear we all share the same goal: to ensure that Iran does not achieve a nuclear weapon, and to do that diplomatically if possible, while recognizing that other alternatives remain on the table.”

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