August 05, 2015

Sen. Brown Opening Statement at Banking Committee's Hearing on the Implications of Sanctions Relief Under the Iran 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 titled, “The Implications of Sanctions Relief Under the Iran Agreement.”

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

Senator Sherrod Brown - Opening Statement
Hearing: “The Implications of Sanctions Relief Under the Iran Agreement”
August 5, 2015

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate your willingness to bring these distinguished witnesses before us today.

Four of our witnesses today worked in the Bush administration in terrorist finance, and in Middle East policy.

In fact, this whole process began in the Bush Administration, with a Republican President who was--in the wake of the Iraq War--willing to engage Iran diplomatically. 

As Secretary Kerry observed in the Foreign Relations Committee the other day, the Bush administration laid the foundation for what became the Iran Agreement -- sanctions relief in return for strict limits on Iran’s nuclear program.

In June 2008, President Bush’s National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice signed a memorandum with the P5+1, which said that, in return for Iran doing key things to limit its nuclear program, the U.S. was ready to:

  • Recognize Iran's right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

  • Treat Iran's nuclear program like any non-nuclear weapons state party to the NPT, if international confidence in the peaceful nature of its program could be restored.

  • Provide technical and financial aid for peaceful nuclear energy.

  • Work with Iran on confidence-building measures, begin to normalize trade and economic relations, and allow for civil aviation cooperation.

All of this should sound familiar, because it was the early outline of the Iran Agreement just completed. And that’s partly why I have been so disappointed in the politicized nature of the debate on this agreement so far – including from colleagues coming out opposed even before reading it.

This is one of the most significant national security issues Congress will face in a generation; it should not be subject to partisan attacks and political ad wars. Congress should give this agreement the serious debate it deserves.

We know Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism; that it destabilizes the region, and violates the human rights of its people.

That’s why western policymakers agreed to separate out and try to secure agreement on this one discrete issue. They knew an Iran with a nuclear weapon would be especially dangerous -- to us, to Israel, and to the region.

And since Iran has deceived the West, verification is key. We must understand how verification will work.

Will the IAEA have sufficient resources to conduct inspections – not just at declared sites, but at suspicious covert sites?

Will our intelligence capabilities be able to detect cheating?

With Iran’s break-out time extended from 2-3 months to a year, for the next ten years, will we have time to respond--politically, economically, and if necessary militarily--if Iran makes a break for a weapon?

And finally, what actually happens if Congress rejects the deal? How would we maintain effective enforcement of our sanctions without the support of our P5+1 allies, whose ambassadors again made clear to a group of us yesterday we’d be isolated?

What happens if a country like China walks away, and dodges our sanctions by establishing banks with no correspondent relationships in the US, and starts buying Iranian oil again?

What would a rejection by Congress do to the credibility of the United States in the eyes of the rest of the world?

We need answers to these and other questions. Some we’ll hear today. Others we’ve been receiving in classified sessions.

Over the years, I supported round after round of tough unilateral and international sanctions, which brought Iran to the table and helped secure this agreement.

Some predicted the JPOA would unravel the sanctions regime; it has not. Others worried Iran would not comply, or would benefit unduly from sanctions relief; that has not happened. 

We have an unusually grave and historic responsibility to assess the consequences of this agreement. And then to weigh the risks and benefits of allowing the President and our allies to test Iran’s willingness to comply with it.

Ultimately, while some of us might differ on tactics, it’s clear we share the same goals: to ensure that Iran does not achieve a nuclear weapon; to do that diplomatically if possible; and to recognize that other alternatives remain on the table–and are not precluded by this agreement.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.