Sen. Brown Opening Statement on Banking Committee Hearing on Iran Sanctions

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 “Perspectives on the Strategic Necessity of Iran Sanctions.”

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

Senator Sherrod Brown - Opening Statement:

“Perspectives on the Strategic Necessity of Iran Sanctions”

 

January 27, 2015

 

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate your willingness to delay this hearing and the markup by a week from the original dates.

Historically, even in a Senate where bipartisanship might be lacking, this committee has operated with bipartisan comity – particularly on this issue.

We have proceeded with regular order, carefully assessed policy options, and usually taken months to craft tough, targeted sanctions -- focusing their effect on Iran’s leaders while minimizing harm and unintended consequences for the US and our allies.

But in a departure from past practice, this hearing originally was not noticed in a timely way under the rules of the Senate.

I appreciate the willingness of Deputy Secretary of State Blinken and Treasury Under Secretary Cohen to testify today.  They were originally given too little notice, and I hope we can avoid that in the future.

Notwithstanding the Senate rule that guarantees witnesses chosen by the Minority as a matter of right, our initial request to seat Administration witnesses was refused. 

In fact, the Administration is generally not considered to be a minority witness, and should not be.  All of us should want to hear from those who are at the center of these negotiations, regardless of who sits in the Oval Office.

Since we have a number of new members, it’s important to note that this committee has not heard directly from the Administration on Iran sanctions in public since December 2013.  Former Chairman Johnson withheld action on further legislation while nuclear negotiations were ongoing, and arranged periodic classified briefings instead.

People have different views on these issues. The process should involve not just an oversight hearing like today’s, but also a set of hearings on the legislation as well.

If this Committee is serious about oversight and policymaking, we should delay a markup until we can get a full sense of the likely consequences of this action.  We should consider the implications of other legislative proposals which may come before other relevant Committees, like those being developed by Senator Feinstein; Senators Boxer and Paul; and Senator Corker, and their relationship to new sanctions legislation.  Some might be helpful; some might not.

Instead it looks like this sanctions bill will be hustled through our Committee with no actual legislative hearings, even though members likely have questions about its provisions, and uncertainty about what Congressional action might mean for the negotiations.

The President has said new sanctions legislation at this time would dramatically undermine the negotiations and our relations with our negotiating partners, and erode international support for multilateral sanctions. He has said he will veto the bill. Our negotiating partners have expressed similar strong opposition.

Mr. Chairman, I ask consent that statements by the President and Prime Minister Cameron, and the recent Washington Post op-ed from the EU Foreign Ministers and the EU High Representative be placed in the record.

This Committee should hear the arguments on all sides, probe them, and test them against our own knowledge and experience on the issues.

If Congress acts to force the President’s hand in the next few months by overriding his veto, and if doing so contributes to the collapse of negotiations and our heading down the path toward a military confrontation, Congress – beginning with each of us -- will be held responsible.

This Committee bears an unusually grave and historic responsibility to assess the full consequences of acting now. We should be especially careful to ensure a thorough process. 

And we have the time to do so since no new sanctions would be applied for six months. In the meantime, existing sanctions will continue to bite, and bite hard.

I’ve supported the search for a diplomatic solution. 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, or from new trade deals; none of that has proven true.  There have been situations where we and Iran disagreed about whether certain things were allowed under the JPOA; they were litigated and resolved by Iran ceasing the activity.

I am not naïve about the likelihood of a final deal, but I think we must allow the President to test the prospects.

I urge the Chairman to step back and adopt the process usually used in this Committee, undertake some additional hearings and delay a markup and further action to see if a nuclear deal can be reached by the deadline.

Ultimately, while some of us might differ on tactics, it is clear we share the same goal: to ensure that Iran does not achieve a nuclear weapon, to do that diplomatically if possible, while recognizing that other alternatives remain on the table.

A longer, more orderly process will ensure we are all fully informed of the potential consequences of our actions, so that no one looks back with regret that we rushed another critical national security decision through Congress without fully understanding its implications.

History is an unkind judge of policymakers who make that mistake.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 

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