Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Howard L. Berman, the Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the below remarks as prepared for delivery at today’s committee hearing, “Iran Sanctions: Strategy, Implementation, and Enforcement.”
The statement follows:
Madam Chairman, thank you for calling this timely hearing on Iran sanctions.
In less than one week, representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, the so-called P-5-plus-1, will meet with Iranian negotiators in Baghdad in pursuit of a resolution to the ongoing nuclear problem.
The Administration has appropriately pursued a two-track approach: diplomacy and pressure. Those tracks are supposed to be mutually reinforcing, but most people agree that it’s the pressure track that has brought Iran back to the table.
The point of sanctions has always been an effort to change Iran’s calculus in pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Without rigorous enforcement, sanctions have no value.
Let’s be clear: The Obama Administration has done far more than any previous administration to implement U.S. sanctions, and to build support for multilateral sanctions.
For more than a decade, we urged successive Administrations to follow the law and implement sanctions against energy companies that invest in Iran, but to no avail.
Now, with the implementation of CISADA, all of the major oil companies have ceased developing energy fields in Iran; the EU is about to implement a boycott on the purchase of Iranian crude; and Tehran is financially isolated, reduced in some cases to signing barter agreements in order to sell its oil.
The Administration has rallied the international community, and especially the European Union, to tighten its sanctions against Iran’s nuclear-weapons program in an unprecedented fashion. As we all know, Congressional focus on sanctions has been crucial in this regard, with this Committee leading the way.
That said, the Administration has yet to use all the tools at its disposal. The sanctions have had an impact on Iran’s economy, but they are still far from crippling. With oil prices so high, Iran is still expected to earn significant oil revenue this year.
In addition, some nations have not been as helpful as they should be in terms of enforcing sanctions. Take China, for example. Chinese oil companies continue to buy Iranian oil. Chinese oil service companies are still helping Iran develop its oil fields. Chinese banks continue to finance sanctionable transactions with Iran, and Chinese shipyards are building oil tankers for Iran. It’s time – in fact, it’s long past time – to impose sanctions on the entities involved in these activities.
Last year this Committee marked up and the House passed the Iran Threat Reduction Act, which strengthens our sanctions regime in several ways. For example, it would ban foreign subsidiaries of American firms from engaging in commerce with Iran, just like their American parent companies. But if we are to persuade Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and end its quest for nuclear weapons, we must do more than pass legislation – that legislation must also be implemented and enforced.
With regard to negotiations, the most immediate goal of the talks must be to turn back the nuclear clock – to set back Iran’s timetable for achieving nuclear weapons capability.
Some have suggested the possibility of an interim agreement under which Iran would ship out its most highly enriched uranium and agree to close its underground bunker facility near Qom, which is set up for production of high-grade enriched uranium and may be virtually impervious to conventional military attack.
That would be a useful start, but I want to make clear that such an agreement would not warrant the easing of sanctions. And most importantly, I believe we should not compromise on the fundamental goal – demanded by the Security Council six separate times since 2006 – that Iran fully suspend its uranium enrichment.
In a New York Times article earlier this week, an Iranian official gloats that the Iranian regime, through sheer passage of time, has won Western acquiescence to its uranium enrichment program. The headline of the article, which accurately characterized the official’s view, was “Iran Sees Success in Stalling on Nuclear Issue”. The official boasted that Iran has, quote “managed to bypass the red lines the West created for us”, unquote.
Well, we need to make clear that Iran is not going to wear us down. We are going to insist on full and sustained suspension of enrichment. We are going to demand that Iran answer all of the outstanding questions about the history of its nuclear-weapons program – questions asked repeatedly by the International Atomic Energy Agency, questions that Iran has been stonewalling for years. We are going to insist on far more intrusive inspections. Otherwise, we will keep moving forward with stronger, tougher sanctions.
I am eager to hear the witnesses’ assessments as to how effective the current sanctions regime is, how effectively the sanctions have been implemented, and what other sanctions we in Congress should pursue. But most of all, I’d like to hear their thoughts on whether and how the sanctions are achieving our primary goal, ending Iran’s nuclear-weapons program once and for all.