Verbatim, as delivered

Having just returned from a trip to the Middle East with Speaker Pelosi and the Democratic national security leadership, it is clear to me that Iran and its nuclear ambitions are central to our interests and concerns in this vital region.

The intentions and possible future actions of Iran are very much on the minds of top leaders in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, with whom we met. They shared their great concern regarding Iran’s growing influence in the area and what everyone believes to be its quest for nuclear weapons.

A world with a nuclear-armed Iran would be a very different world. It would be world in which Tehran, without firing a shot, would be able to intimidate and bully its neighbors, including many who are today allies of the United States. It is clear that Iran’s neighbors know this -- and, for the most part, they are terrified by the prospect.

We must know all we can about Iran’s capabilities and its intentions, because we must prevent the development of a nuclear-armed Iran. At the same time, we must act very carefully in this sensitive and important region, which is already in upheaval because of our Iraq policy.

Iran is growing increasingly arrogant about its ability to act with impunity. Last June the Permanent Five members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany offered a very generous package of incentives to Tehran to suspend its nuclear program. Iran merely shrugged it off.

In July the Security Council issued an ultimatum to Teheran: Suspend your uranium enrichment activities within one month or face sanctions. Iran blithely ignored that threat as well and continued with enrichment.

Nothing that happened subsequently shook Teheran’s faith in its ability to continue its cynical kabuki dance. Russia and China raised one roadblock after another. The Security Council failed to impose sanctions within one month, or even two. Instead, it wrangled for five long months before producing a pathetic set of sanctions that will do little or nothing to deter Iran’s reckless pursuit of nuclear arms.

Meanwhile, the Chinese and the Iranians announced a preliminary agreement worth some $16 billion for Chinese investment in an Iranian natural gas field. On Monday of this week, Royal Dutch Shell announced the signing of a preliminary multibillion-dollar deal with Iran to develop adjacent gas properties.

The recently-announced oil and gas deal between Iran and Malaysia is equally abhorrent. That is why today I am sending a letter to our trade representative, Susan Schwab, requesting that all negotiations between the United States and Malaysia on a free trade agreement be suspended until Malaysia renounces this proposed deal.

At a time when we and the United Nations should be imposing sanctions upon Iran for its nuclear activities, Asian and European companies are signing lucrative contracts to provide massive additional revenues to fuel Iran’s search for nuclear weapons. If we permit this kind of heedless and mindless avarice, it will be at the world’s peril.

This past week, Mohamed el-Baradei, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, revealed that within a few weeks Iran intends to begin construction of a new underground plant for uranium enrichment. Once again, Iran has thumbed its nose at the international community.

Given the urgency of our concerns with Iran, we must use every tool in our diplomatic arsenal. The most basic is dialogue. I am passionately committed to dialogue with those countries with which we disagree. Dialogue does not mean appeasement or defeat. Dialogue represents our best opportunity to persuade, as well as our best opportunity to determine if we have failed to persuade.

For over a decade I have sought opportunities to meet with the Iranian leadership in Tehran. My friend Kofi Annan, the former U.N. Secretary General, and Jan Eliasson, the President of the U.N. General Assembly and Foreign Minister of Sweden, have both attempted to persuade the authorities that an open dialogue with members of Congress is in our mutual interest. All of our approaches have so far been rebuffed.

The Iranian people deserve leaders who are worthy of their noble traditions and their importance as a nation. I am cautiously encouraged that President Ahmadinejad has recently suffered a triple-whammy: A resounding defeat of his party in local elections; a harsh letter of rebuke from a majority of the Iranian parliament; and a denunciation of his diplomacy by the newspaper considered as the mouth-piece of Iran’s supreme leader Khamenei.

In short, this is a critically important time for us to make progress in dealing with the nuclear ambitions of Iran. And it may be that conditions in Iran are right to make steps forward. Now I urge all of my colleagues to read very carefully the submitted testimony of our three distinguished witnesses in toto.

These three papers represent a kaleidoscope of views concerning this unbelievably complex country. We are cautioned in their statements about falling victim to the Chalabi syndrome, the experience we had with respect to Iraq. They are cautioning against a grand bargain with the mullahs whereby we would overlook the human rights abuses and the nuclear plans for the appearance of a surface relationship. They correctly point out that Iran is a despotic theocracy and – here I quote – “a theocracy despite incompetence, morally bankrupt and bereft of legitimacy.” They are cautioning about the presence of a messianic clergy, and some of the leadership which believes in the imminent return of the Madhi, the 12th Imam of the Shi’a, who had gone into occultation a thousand years ago.

Yet at the same time they correctly point out that the vast majority of the Iranian people despise the theocratic rulers and show their distrust through both capital flight and an enormous brain drain. And one of our witnesses calls for dramatic changes in our public diplomacy policy vis a vis that country. I am deeply grateful for their three powerful papers.


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