May 24, 2016

Brown Opening Statement at Hearing on Sanctions and the Iran Nuclear Agreement

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) – ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs – released the following opening statement, as prepared for delivery, at today’s hearing entitled, “Understanding the Role of Sanctions Under the Iran Deal.”

Brown’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow.

Senator Sherrod Brown - Opening Statement
Hearing: “Understanding the Role of Sanctions Under the Iran Deal”
May 24, 2016

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. For the next two days, this Committee will examine the continuing role of US sanctions on Iran: those lifted under the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and those still in place to combat Iran’s ongoing malicious behavior.

Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism that destabilizes the region and violates the human rights of its people. That’s why US and allied policymakers decided to focus on preventing the greatest danger: its nuclear program. They knew a nuclear-armed Iran would pose grave risks--to us, to Israel, and to the region. This original rationale is worth bearing in mind given the partisan rancor on this effort in the last two years.

Long before the JCPOA, there had been a broad bipartisan consensus—in both the Bush and Obama Administrations-- on using tough economic sanctions to force Iran to the negotiating table and agree to steps to block its pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

In fact, in 2008, President Bush’s National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice signed a memorandum with P5+1 allies, stating that, in return for Iran agreeing to limit its nuclear program, the U.S. was ready to recognize its right to peaceful nuclear energy; work with its leaders to build confidence, begin to normalize trade and economic relations, and allow for civil aviation cooperation. That served as the basis for future discussions in the Obama administration.

That’s why I was so disappointed in the partisan nature of the debate last year--including from colleagues who opposed the JCPOA even before reading it.

Contrary to opponents’ dire predictions, Iran complied with its commitments under the 2013 interim agreement, and the International Atomic Energy Agency has verified that Iran has met its JCPOA obligations.

Critics said our sanctions regime would unravel, and exaggerated the amount of sanctions relief Iran would receive. They claimed Iran would never shut down its centrifuges, disable its plutonium reactor, ship out its uranium, or allow real-time monitoring of its nuclear sites. More recently, some alleged that the administration was preparing to provide Iran direct access to the US financial system.

All of those claims were wrong. The nuclear agreement was one of the most significant national security achievements in a generation, and it was accomplished without dragging the United States into another war in the Middle East.

This history underscores two key pointsFirst, economic sanctions are means, not ends. Whether applied to Iran or Russia or Burma, they are meant to bolster diplomacy and force concrete changes in a nation’s behavior.  In Iran’s case, economic sanctions strengthened our national security and that of allies like Israel by forcing Iran’s leaders to abandon key elements of their nuclear program that could have led to a bomb.  

Second, whether we supported or opposed the JCPOA, we all understand the need to continue to combat the threat that Iran continues to pose to the United States and our allies. That requires the administration to enforce existing sanctions, designate new sanctions targets, block Iran’s pursuit of military technologies, and take other steps to confront Iran and its terrorist proxies like Hizballah. 

It requires Congress to confirm immediately our chief sanctions enforcer from whom we will hear tomorrow, Acting Under Secretary Szubin. He should be in place now with full powers, and the full support of the Senate. Unfortunately, his nomination has been blocked for over a year.

Congress must also continue to provide close oversight and support robust military and other aid to regional partners like Israel. We should be focused on holding Iran’s feet to the fire, to ensure strict implementation of the agreement, and to pressure its leaders to change their other destabilizing behaviors.

I hope my colleagues will not try to relitigate the JCPOA by trying to re-impose old nuclear sanctions under new labels. Broad new sanctions legislation that contradicts our commitments and tries to tie the President’s hands would undermine the unity we have developed with our P5+1 partners around the world. That will not help confront the threats Iran continues to pose, or help the cause of regional stability. It will be seen as transparently political, and invite a presidential veto.

I welcome our witnesses this morning, and look forward to hearing their perspectives. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.