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Engel Remarks on U.S. Sanctions Policy

Sep 13, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following statement at a full committee hearing on U.S. sanctions policy:

“Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for calling today’s hearing.

“And Assistant Secretary Singh and Assistant Secretary Billingslea—welcome and thank you for your service and your time this morning.

“We appreciate having Administration witnesses here, but if I have to be honest, I have to say it happens too rarely. Since coming into office, frankly the Administration has been increasingly reluctant to work with Congress. That’s how it seems to us and it’s very, very frustrating. But we are happy you’re here.

“The latest example—pertinent to our conversation this morning—was the development of this week’s executive order on sanctions. There was no discussion of this effort with Congress whatsoever. We learned about it from Reuters. And from what I hear, your agencies were caught equally by surprise. And obviously that’s not the way it’s supposed to work.

“So, I want to use this time that we do have Administration officials before our committee to tackle this important topic. Sanctions can be a very effective tool to achieve our foreign policy objectives.

“But I’m concerned that this Administration is turning reflexively to sanctions instead of taking the harder look at how they should fit into a broader strategy. Sanctions are a tool. They are not, by themselves, a strategy.

“I’m also troubled by the Administration’s reliance on using unilateral sanctions, without developing support among our friends and allies. It’s a standard practice, apparently, I don’t know why. We need to check in with other governments that share our priorities. The power of sanctions is obviously amplified when we build support among other countries. When we act alone, without consulting our partners, we run the risk of them, in turn, acting in ways that undercut our goals.

“And for example, Iran. We pulled out of the nuclear deal and sort of left our partners and allies sort of twisting in the wind. Now, I didn’t vote for the Iran deal. I was not happy with it. But it became the law and we were pursuing it and now going against our allies and isolating us instead of isolating Iran I think is the wrong way to go. So, facing the threat of U.S. sanctions, it seems to me we’ve pushed foreign governments closer to Tehran rather than further away from Tehran. These are the same allies who stood beside us as we dialed up pressure on Iran. And so, by embracing a unilateral sanctions approach without a clear objective, we created a situation I believe counterproductive to our own policy goals.

“And I’m concerned that we still don’t have a clear long-term strategy for Iran. The Administration uses loud rhetoric, but there’s little substance, I find, behind the tough talk. So, if sanctions don’t bring Iran to the table, what is the administration’s Plan B? For sanctions to be effective policy tools, they must work in conjunction with a broader diplomatic effort. And actually, I think diplomacy seems to be sidelined as a foreign-policy tool.

“We see it again when it comes to the approach to North Korea. Despite the President proudly boasting success after the June summit, there has been no progress on denuclearization. In fact, it now seems his so-called ‘success’ has turned into a failure. We need to think about how sanctions play into our broader strategy—if we have one.

“What are we doing to exert pressure on our international partners to keep up multilateral sanctions enforcement? Do we have any reason to believe that sanctions will be enough to convince Kim to give up his nuclear weapons without a broader diplomatic strategy to provide him a compelling reason to do so? What are we doing outside of sanctions to build trust and reassure the North Koreans that we are committed to peace? These are important questions that obviously needs to consider.

“Now there is, of course, one glaring exception to the rule, and that’s the one in which the Trump administration has been remarkably restrained in its use of sanctions—Russia. To be fair, the administration has imposed new sanctions against the Russians. But the sanctions they have put forward, in my opinion, amounts to a band-aid on a bullet wound.

“In 2016, our country was attacked. Russia conducted cyber-attacks to steal and disseminate information with the specific goal of helping Donald Trump win the presidency. They attacked our election institutions and flooded cyberspace with divisive propaganda. And they haven’t stopped the assault—our elections are vulnerable to Russian influence at this very moment.

“Now I would be just as outraged if they tried to help Hillary Clinton. I want them out of American politics. They are not our friends, they are our adversaries. And I don’t want them interfering with our American democracy.

“And we haven’t done nearly enough to stop it. The President has many sanctions tools at his disposal to punish the Russians for their attack on our democracy. And instead of using the full force of U.S. sanctions power, he cozies up to Vladimir Putin, the very man who directed this assault. The former head of the KGB in Soviet Union.

“And let me say, the Executive Order announced yesterday is not really an answer to this problem. It creates a complicated, overly broad process that will not do much to deter the ongoing attack on American democracy. It reminds me of being too little, too late.

“I want to note that we in Congress could be doing more on this as well. For example, my bill with Mr. Connolly, the SECURE Our Democracy Act, is a response with real teeth. We introduced it last January when we first got a clear picture of what the Russians did in 2016. But it hasn’t really moved. And here we are, less than two months from an election, and I don’t think we’ve done nearly enough to tackle this threat.

“We are vulnerable to more attacks. It’s imperative that we act now. We need to punish those who attacked our democracy and work to deter future attacks. We need to incorporate a stronger sanctions regime into a broader strategy to deal with Russia’s aggression and utter disrespect for international rule of law.

“So, I’d like to know—and you answer these questions—what your agencies are doing to meet this challenge, as well as the other range of issues I’ve mentioned."

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