Verbatim, as delivered

On June 12, Iranians went to the polls in what was expected to be a close Presidential election. But instead of a down-to-the-wire contest, the Iranian government almost immediately declared that the incumbent had been re-elected in a landslide.

This hearing takes place in the wake of six weeks of post-election turmoil and uncertainty – the most significant internal upheaval since the 1979 revolution. Hundreds of thousands of courageous Iranians have taken to the street in defiance of the regime to protest the election results.

The regime responded brutally to these peaceful demonstrators. By the government’s own admission, at least 20 protestors were killed and some 500 are in prison awaiting trial. Most human rights groups say the actual numbers are much higher, with some putting the number killed well into the hundreds.

Iran also barred its domestic and foreign press from covering the demonstrations; shut down cell-phone coverage and the Internet for long periods of time to limit communication among the dissidents; arrested foreign journalists; and, in total disregard of international law, broke into the British embassy to arrest local hires.

The people of Iran should know that the over one million Iranians living in America and hundreds of millions of other Americans stand in awe of their courage to stand up for free elections.

Have no doubt, the American people stand with you.

Post-June 12 events in Iran raise many questions. Has the regime, as many have said, now lost much, if not all, of its legitimacy? Is the clerical elite now irrevocably divided? Has the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps become the dominant force in the country? If so, what are the implications of these developments?

Should we expect further turmoil? Is the regime’s survival in question? And, most important, what are the implications for U.S. and international efforts to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability?

The facts on the ground are deeply disturbing. Iran has made significant progress on its nuclear program, far exceeding expectations of the recent past.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has now installed more than 7,000 centrifuges, and has produced enough low-enriched uranium to fuel a nuclear explosive device, were that low-enriched uranium to be transformed into highly-enriched uranium.

And some would point out that this describes only Iran’s overt program; in many quarters, the suspicion lurks that Iran also has a covert program that is even further along.

The nuclear issue is urgent, and it is of such over-riding importance to America’s national security – and to regional stability – that we can’t afford to drop the ball.

Whatever our feelings about the authoritarian regime in Tehran, that regime continues to hold the reins of power, and for now, I believe President Obama is correct in continuing to pursue a policy of engagement.

Why? Because our previous policy of seeking to isolate the regime simply didn’t work.

Nothing we have done has slowed Iran’s drive to acquire a nuclear weapons capability.

And only by making a good-faith effort to engage Iran can we build the support we need from the international community to impose the crippling sanctions necessary should engagement fail.

But while it is important to pursue engagement, it is also critical that these efforts be time-limited, and that the Administration be prepared to try a different approach if Iran is not cooperating.

As I understand it, that is exactly the Administration’s policy. The President recently said that Iran’s willingness to engage will be re-evaluated in early fall, after the September 24-25 G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh.

He has also said that “(w)e’re not going to create a situation in which talks become an excuse for inaction while Iran proceeds” on its nuclear efforts. In short – if I can paraphrase the President – we should not allow Iran to run out the clock.

I agree with the President’s timetable. If by autumn the Iranians are not responsive to US efforts to engage them, it likely will be time to move on, hopefully in close coordination with our allies and other key countries.

That is also my approach regarding H.R. 2194, the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, which I introduced with the Ranking Member in April, and which is now co-sponsored by well over half the Members of the House.

My bill would impose sanctions on companies that are involved in exporting refined petroleum products to Iran or in helping Iran to increase or maintain its existing domestic refining capacity.

This legislation would force companies in the energy sector to choose between doing business with Iran, or doing business with the United States.

The Iranian economy is heavily dependent on imports of refined petroleum, so this legislation -- if it becomes law -- would significantly increase economic pressure on Iran, and hopefully persuade the regime to change its current course.

When I introduced H.R. 2194, I said that I did not intend to immediately move it through the legislative process. I wanted – and still want – to give the Administration’s efforts to engage Iran every possible chance to succeed, within a reasonable time frame.

I view the bill as a “sword of Damocles” over the Iranians – a clear hint of what will happen if they do not engage seriously and move rapidly to suspend their uranium enrichment program, as required by numerous UN Security Council resolutions.

If engagement doesn’t work, then I am prepared to mark up the bill in Committee early this fall.

Thus far, Iran has not been responsive – not on the bilateral front, and not even on the multilateral front.

Last month, Iran cancelled its attendance at the G-8 ministerial in Trieste, Italy.

It has refused to set a date for the next P-5-plus-1 meeting.

It is now late July – close enough to the Administration’s time-limit, and to my own, that Iran should be able to hear the clock ticking.

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