Engel Floor Remarks Opposing Latest Iran Bill
- As Delivered -
WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following statement of opposition to the so-called Justice for Victims of Iranian Terrorism Act (HR 3457) on the House floor:
“Mr. Speaker, thank you. I rise in opposition to the bill and I yield myself as much time as I may consume.
“Thank you. Let me start by acknowledging my friend Chairman Royce. The Committee on Foreign Affairs is the most bipartisan committee in Congress. We are collaborative. We are productive. And we have built a record advancing bipartisan legislation that promotes Americans’ interests abroad and keeps the American people safe. And I want to state that Chairman Royce’s leadership is to thank for much of our Committee’s good work.
“So I’m disappointed that the House Republican Leadership decided to ignore regular order on this bill. They’ve rushed it to the floor without any consideration by the Foreign Affairs Committee. And as was pointed out, we’ve had 30 hearings. We know a little bit about Iran on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
“So rushing it to the floor without any consideration by the Foreign Affairs Committee is wrong. I think it’s a shame. Because I think, left to our own volition, we could have sent forward a bill that could make a difference for the victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism. And Iranian-sponsored terrorism is there. It’s palpable. And we should do something to try to help the victims. But this bill, on the other hand, would not do that. And let me explain why.
“American courts have awarded roughly $46 billion to about 1,300 victims and their families. We all want justice for these families. We all want to hold Iran accountable for its acts of terrorism against Americans. Iran should pay these claims. But this bill does nothing for the victims of Iranian terror. And here’s the problem. Let’s assume for argument that Iran’s leaders did change course and decide to pay the claims. This bill would actually make it more difficult for Iran to pay these judgments.
“Iran owes American claimants $46 billion. But Iran has access to only $20 billion of its cash reserves, not $46 [billion]. The rest—$95 billion—is frozen in bank accounts in Europe and Asia.
“On top of that, Iran’s oil revenues are frozen. When Iran sells oil, the payments are kept frozen under the threat of American sanctions, which I support. Iran can access those funds only for certain purposes. Paying court judgments is not one of them. Current U.S. sanctions don’t allow it. And under this bill, all U.S. sanctions are kept in effect—absolutely no changes allowed—until Iran pays the full $46 billion.
“So where would Iran get the money to pay the American claims? This bill says: ‘Iran, pay the claims. But you can’t have any of the funds to pay them.’
“So it’s a Catch-22. And who does it hurt? Not Iran. It hurts the victims. Not a single claim would be paid under this bill. So in my opinion, this bill offers nothing but false hope.
“Now, I’ve heard some members say: ‘Well, we can pay the claims by seizing Iran’s frozen assets.’ But that’s really not the case. Virtually all of Iran’s funds frozen under our sanctions are overseas—not in the U.S. Though they’re frozen by U.S. sanctions, they’re beyond the jurisdiction of our courts to seize them. Another false promise. Virtually all of Iran’s assets will stay overseas. And under this bill, they would be required to be kept overseas because all U.S. sanctions would be kept in effect, by law, with no change allowed.
“So let’s be honest: this bill is not really about helping these victims. It’s about exploiting their plight and their tragedy to make a political splash.
“Look: Everyone here knows I’m no fan of the Iran nuclear agreement. I voted against it. But the other side won. And whether you were for or against the deal, it’s time to be realistic about what happens next.
“In my opinion, there are two potential courses. The first is to do everything we can to strengthen enforcement of the agreement and hold Iran to its commitments. We should double down on our support for friends and allies in the region. We should crack down on Iran’s support for terrorist organizations. We should push leaders in Tehran to release detained Americans and improve its abysmal record on human rights.
“That’s the course I hope we’ll take. I’ll soon introduce legislation to pursue those aims. And I’ll work with members of both parties to get these measures to the President’s desk.
“The other course would be doing to the Iran agreement what leaders on the other side have tried to do to the Affordable Healthcare Act. And that’s what I’m afraid of here. Vote after vote after vote after vote—whether we like it or not—on an issue that has already been voted on in this chamber many, many times.
“I don’t want the dispute on Iran to turn into the Affordable Healthcare Act, where we try to kill it 60 different ways. We should not be using this for political purposes.
“We should be passing legislation which I know we can get out of the Foreign Affairs Committee in a collaborative way that would really do something to help these victims. That would really do something to hold Iran accountable for all its reprehensible acts.
“So I hope that what we’re doing today is not the path we’re going down, not only now, but in the future with other things. There was a measure in the Senate that was very similar to this, which, which tried to hold Iran to certain things and say that the funds couldn’t be released unless Iran did this or did that.
“We could do this another 60 times. It would be counterproductive. Let’s put our heads together. Let’s figure out a way that we can continue to hold Iran accountable and let’s move on that way.
“So I hope we can move past this bill and start working on measures to ensure that the Iran agreement is implemented as strongly and stringently as possible. I hope we can get back to our regular practice in the Foreign Affairs Committee, of which we have been so proud, and focus on making policy that leaves politics at the water’s edge.
“I reserve the balance of my time.”