February 7, 2007

Contact: Lynne Weil, 202-225-5021

Verbatim, as delivered

I want to welcome our distinguished Secretary of State. This is second time in just a few weeks that we have the pleasure of a visit from Dr. Rice, and we are deeply grateful that, despite the enormous demand on her time here and abroad, she has honored us with her presence.

I also want to mention at the outset that family medical circumstances are preventing our distinguished ranking member from being here. So after my opening statement, we will go to the Secretary and people on the committee on either side are free to submit statements for the record.

The United States is engaged in two wars: One in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. We are facing two rogue countries, Iran and North Korea, which are racing to acquire nuclear arsenals. And we are fighting an international war on terrorism against a constantly changing enemy.

Any one of these would be sufficient for a series of hearings, which we have already begun. Today, I want to focus my remarks on just two: Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and the war in Afghanistan.

Madame Secretary, as the civilized world confronts the rising threat of Iran, it is imperative that we speak directly, and accept no more excuses from any quarter.

The Iranian government has no end of excuses to justify its construction of a huge uranium enrichment facility. They argue Iran needs the fuel for civilian nuclear power plants. They assert the need for an uninterruptible supply of nuclear fuel that is not subject to the whims of other nations.

As you well know, Madame Secretary, these excuses are pure fiction. Iran is developing a nuclear weapons capability, and its enrichment facility is designed to feed the voracious appetite of that program.

But in all candor, Iran’s excuses hurt us severely with our friends and allies as we urgently seek to develop an international consensus that Tehran’s nuclear ambitions must be stopped. Iran’s excuses prevent us from exerting strong multilateral pressure on Iran through increased economic sanctions.

While I do not believe that Iran is likely to be deterred in its pursuit of nuclear weapons, the hollowness of its claims of peaceful intent can be easily exposed.

If Iran’s nuclear program is truly peaceful, Tehran should welcome an opportunity to ensure a stable supply of nuclear fuel from an internationally-supported nuclear fuel bank located in a safe nation. If Iran is instead building a nuclear weapon, its nefarious intentions will be quickly exposed should it refuse to participate in this important project.

So Madame Secretary, today I am introducing legislation to provide both financial and material support for establishing an International Nuclear Fuel Bank under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency. This bank will ensure that any state that keeps its nuclear nonproliferation commitments can get the fuel it needs without establishing its own fuel production facilities.

Madame Secretary, with this legislation, we can put an end to the lame excuses of the government in Tehran. But the same holds true for Afghanistan: the time for excuses is over.

As you know, Madame Secretary, I just returned from a fact-finding trip to Iraq and Afghanistan with Speaker Pelosi and other colleagues in the national security leadership of Congress.

Soon after our plane touched down in Kabul, our delegation met with President Karzai. Increased economic assistance for the troubled nation was at the top of his request list, and I know it is on yours, as well. Let me be clear – I support an increase in economic and security assistance to Kabul. Security must be restored, abject poverty must be tackled, and the explosive growth of poppy production must be checked. There is every reason to believe Afghanistan can still be saved.

But if American taxpayers are to be expected to allocate an additional 10 and a half billion dollars to Afghanistan, the oil-rich Arab countries in the Gulf should surely be expected to match our contributions, at the very least.

Over the past several years, the Saudis have made more than 300 billion dollars in excess oil profits while Americans paid two and a half or three dollars a gallon at the pump. Meanwhile, the Saudi contribution to Afghan reconstruction and development has been pathetic, a mere drop in the barrel.

While their fellow Muslims are struggling to survive in the harsh Afghan winter, the Saudi royal family is content with handing out a few small coins from its change purse. Madame Secretary, I hope that you will continue to make it abundantly clear to the Gulf nations that their miserly ways must end, and they must end now.

The member nations of NATO must also rethink their knee-jerk aversion to being major players in bringing peace to Afghanistan. Europeans loved NATO when the alliance protected them from the menacing Soviet threat. But their ardor has cooled as NATO is called on to protect Afghanistan from devolving into a narco-terrorist state.

NATO literally has to beg for troops, and the numbers are still too few – approximately 35,000 with almost 14,000 coming from the United States. Those European troops that are present in the country have largely been deployed to the safest areas, leaving the difficult work, once again, to us, the Brits, the Canadians, the Dutch and the Danes.

Europeans have provided plenty of excuses for their failure to send adequate troops to Afghanistan. Low public support. Declining armies. High costs. Madame Secretary, I’m sure you agree with me that these excuses must end. If the nations of Europe and the Gulf are unwilling to do their share to protect international security, then perhaps we should rethink the nature of our alliances with them.

Madame Secretary, I would also like to take this opportunity to advise you that the House next week will have a serious and substantive debate on the President’s plans to escalate the number of American troops in Iraq. All members will have an opportunity to express their views on the floor of the House floor. I will reiterate my strong opposition to the Administration’s proposal, and I anticipate that many of my colleagues will do likewise.

Let me also, before I conclude, call your attention to a news report this morning indicating that our military in Iraq is deeply disturbed, according to these reports, that there are not enough civilians from the Department of State and other federal agencies in our complex efforts to bring some stability to that country.

I will place Ranking Member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s official statement in the record without objection. And I want to welcome you, Madame Secretary, and the floor is yours.