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Statement of Chairman Tom Lantos at Full Committee Briefing, “Next Steps in the Iran Crisis”

Jan 11, 2007
Press Release
Verbatim, as delivered

Good morning, everybody, and I want to welcome everybody to the first briefing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in the 110th Congress.

Let me just say a word about what our plans are for this year. We will have an extremely full and intensive hearing schedule. This afternoon the Secretary of State will appear before us just prior to her leaving for the Middle East. And in the next few weeks, we will have hearings on NATO in Afghanistan, the global energy future of the United States, matching our foreign policy and military strength, Russia under Putin, realistic expectations concerning the United Nations under its new management, the continuing tragic saga of Darfur, rebuilding US-European relationships, following the historic achievement of the India nuclear deal we have scheduled a hearing on US-India relations, we will have a hearing on China-US relations, an early hearing with former Secretary of Defense Perry on North Korea, we’re planning a hearing on Syria and Lebanon, and a hearing on own hemisphere.

We will have occasional hearings on Mondays and Fridays in view of the five-day schedule announced by Speaker Pelosi. And the Committee will do its utmost to have the continued bipartisan and cordial and collegial atmosphere that our former chairman, Henry Hyde, and I tried to establish.

This era of renewed checks and balances on executive power is off to a promising start: Our panel begins holding briefings and hearings on subjects of vital national interest this week, even as our membership is still being determined. And if I may digress for a moment, I will formally welcome all of our new members individually once the leadership has completed its selection for service on this committee. At the moment, let me just welcome the new members en bloc and indicate how pleased we are to have them.

In recent years, most especially in the wake of September 11th, Americans have become more keenly conscious of the need to pay attention to foreign policy; the fact that we are getting down to the business of oversight right away is all to the good.

I am delighted formally to greet my very good friend, the distinguished Ranking Member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, and I want to congratulate her on taking the reins on her side of the aisle. We look forward to continuing this committee’s track record of fair-mindedness, collegiality and strong bipartisanship.

Today we hold two briefings of tremendous importance to our country’s foreign policy. This afternoon, as I indicated, Secretary of State Rice will testify on Administration policy toward Iraq, and we will anticipate a lively conversation then. For now, we turn to the vital and in many ways related subject of Iran.

Four years ago, our nation undertook a war based on information that turned out to be wrong. Regardless of the position that anyone took on authorizing the use of force, there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq -- the main, stated rationale for going to war. Members of Congress and our compatriots were rallied in an effort to prevent that perceived threat, and in the end it may have cost us dearly in both national security and in prestige.

We will not allow our country be drawn again into conflict under similar circumstances. We refuse to allow another debacle in a region already fraught with many risks. Our committee will meet regularly and will seek relentlessly honest explanations from the Administration, as well as the insights of the best experts and analysts available.

In the spirit of obtaining the best insights possible, we have invited two leading foreign-policy experts – both with vast experience at the highest level of service of the United States government – to discuss U.S. policy toward Iran and the Iranian nuclear program. This surely is among the most weighty foreign-policy problems we face. For virtually the whole world now recognizes that Iran is hell-bent on becoming a nuclear-armed power. This is a problem not for any one country, but for the entire civilized world. We must end the Kabuki dance that Teheran has made of diplomacy, pretending to negotiate only to use the time gained to accelerate its pursuit of nuclear arms.

The answer to the Iran problem is not easy to discern, but one thing is clear: We are making precious little progress towards resolving it. Nearly three years ago, the Administration responded to a letter I wrote regarding Iran by saying, and I quote, “We believe that only sustained, firm, united international pressure on Iran can persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons-related efforts.” Some efforts have been made in that regard over the past three years, but with results that are totally inadequate. The international community remains deeply disunited and the pressure on Iran is far too weak to persuade its government to change course.

Iran is growing increasingly confident – even arrogant – about its ability to deflect international efforts to bring about a halt to its nuclear enrichment activities. Last July, the U.N. Security Council issued an ultimatum: Suspend those activities within one month, or face sanctions. Iran shrugged off the threat and continued with enrichment. Nothing that happened subsequently shook Teheran’s faith in its own judgment. With Russia and China raising roadblocks after roadblock, the Security Council did not act 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 almost nothing to deter Iran’s reckless pursuit of nuclear arms. Teheran has contemptuously referred to the resolution that was passed unanimously by the United Nations Security Council as “trash paper.”

This is not the first time Tehran has turned its back on world opinion about its quest for nuclear weapons. It passed up an extraordinary opportunity last summer when the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, along with Germany, offered a very generous package of incentives to suspend its military nuclear program, including unprecedented economic incentives and the opportunity for long-overdue, serious dialogue.

A world with a nuclear-armed Iran would be a very different world, indeed. It would be a world in which Iran, without firing a shot, would be able to intimidate and bully its neighbors, including many who are today allies of the United States. Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would encourage and inspire religious violent Islamic fanatics around the globe, and it would touch off a new nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East. It would vastly increase U.S. obligations to Middle Eastern countries and it would seriously complicate our strategic posture in the region and, indeed, the entire world. Most importantly, it would put the ultimate weapon of terror into the hands of the world’s leading terrorist-supporting state. No one knows what the Iranians would do with their new nuclear weapon – and to whom they might sell it or give it. These are scenarios too serious to contemplate.

Given the nature of the problem, it is obvious that we must use every tool in our diplomatic arsenal to deal with it -- including the most basic, which is dialogue. I am frankly baffled by the debate over whether or not we should engage in dialogue with Iran. Dialogue does not mean defeat. I am passionately committed to dialogue with those with whom we disagree. It presents our best opportunity to persuade, and our best opportunity to determine definitively if we have failed to persuade.

During the Cold War we spoke with the Soviet Union even though they had thousands of nuclear-tipped missiles pointed at our population centers. So it is at best inconsistent to oppose dialogue with Iran when hope remains alive that Tehran might be convinced not to develop nuclear weapons.

John F. Kennedy’s maxim that “We should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate” is as true today regarding Iran as it was when he said it 46 years ago about the Soviet Union.

I see no reason to fear dialogue with Iran. In fact, I have sought my own opportunities for dialogue with the leaders in Teheran – to little avail. For the last decade I have been requesting, through a variety of channels, including the secretary-general of the United Nations, a visa to visit Iran to meet with them.

The truth is that Iran has never made an offer of true dialogue with the United States, and it is not at all clear that its radical clerical and political leaderships will ever allow real bilateral talks with what some in Iran have branded “the Great Satan.”

Paradoxically, of course, this does not represent the view of the Iranian people themselves. Overwhelming numbers of Iranians favor dialogue and good relations with the United States, as a respected survey conclusively shows – a survey which, by the way, landed its author in jail.

We should pursue dialogue with Iran even as we deploy other diplomatic tools to achieve our goals of suspending and ultimately the ending Iran’s nuclear military program. We need to take severe economic measures that would deprive Iranian leaders of the resources they need to fund a costly nuclear program. We need to work with the Europeans and others to convince them to divest from Iran.

The Administration needs to enforce the Iran Sanctions Act to make sure that companies that invest in Iran’s energy sector pay a painful price in relations with the United States. Though it passed Congress by a wide margin, this law remains ignored. But, thanks to legislation passed last year that I had the privilege of co-sponsoring with Ranking Member Ros-Lehtinen, the Administration will either have to impose biting sanctions or attempt to give Congress persuasive and compelling reasons as to why it is continuing to ignore them.

The first test-case will come when and if China’s state oil company begins to implement the outrageous $16 billion Memorandum of Understanding it recently signed to develop Iran’s North Pars natural gas fields. I have called for a comprehensive closed a briefing from the Department of State on this development. I can assure you that this Committee will hold the Administration’s feet to the fire, demanding biting sanctions.

Iran has inherited an ancient and marvelous culture. The value of its contributions to the world of literature and the visual arts and many other areas is inestimable. Millions of its citizens respect cultures and religions other than their own. The Iranian people deserve leaders who are worthy of their noble traditions.

We need to find a diplomatic way to resolve our problems with Iran – not only the nuclear issue, but all others, including Iranian support for Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iraqi terrorists. We need to address Iran’s significant restrictions on the freedom of its own people.

Our witnesses today have given considerable thought to those issues, and we hope their views will help guide us to some useful insights.

Now it’s my pleasure turn to my good friend Ranking Member Ros-Lehtinen for any comments she may choose to make on this subject, in which she has been so actively engaged.

(End)


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Transcript of the Lantos interview aired on