Last week, Iranian citizens took to the streets of Isfahan to protest a recent spate of violent acid attacks against women. Holding placards showing their solidarity with the victims, the peaceful protestors called for Iranian authorities to hold the attackers accountable.
We know that these kind of egregious attacks happen against women around the world, and I have spoken out before about incidents in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Women are often the drivers of economic growth and cultural change, but they are also often the targets of horrible violence.
What is especially troubling about the Isfahan attacks is that they follow the passage of a new law in Iranian parliament, which is reportedly “designed to protect those who correct people acting in an un-Islamic way.” It is the women, the survivors, who should be protected, not their attackers.
Even as the Administration continues to negotiate with the Iranian regime on nuclear issues, we cannot lose sight of the regime’s egregious human rights record. The Iranian government must take action – at both the local and federal levels – to hold accountable those hardliners who perpetrated these attacks and to reverse the legislative framework that protects these criminals.
Thirty four years ago today, thousands of Iranian protestors broke down the gates of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, took the Americans inside as hostages, and began a 444-day ordeal that no American alive at the time will soon forget. Again today, Iranian hardliners celebrated this anniversary in Tehran’s streets by burning American flags and chanting anti-American slogans.
Later this week, the United States and our international partners will meet again with Iranian representatives in Geneva. I have strongly supported the tough economic sanctions that have brought the Iranian regime to the negotiating table, and I urge the Administration not to back away from these sanctions until Iran translates its rhetoric into concrete and verifiable action. Previous negotiation efforts have yielded little but additional time for Iran to continue its support of terrorism and expand its nuclear program.
In honor of those Americans who were taken hostage on November 4, 1979, we must continue to insist that Iran forgo its enrichment program and allow full access for international inspectors. Their courage and sacrifice those many years ago should prompt us to accept nothing less.
Last November, I called for a more assertive US approach to the conflict in Syria because it is in line with our national security interests and our humanitarian values. Taking action now will certainly be more difficult than it was last year, but if the administration does decide to act in collaboration with our allies in Europe and the Middle East, it should act decisively to avoid further extending the conflict. As part of any military response, the US should redouble its efforts to support the moderate opposition with training and equipment. The US should also increase humanitarian support for Syrians inside the country as well as refugees in surrounding countries. Addressing the crisis in Syria at this stage will be extremely difficult, but every day that Assad remains in power helps Iran and Hezbollah and threatens stability across the region. Iran and terrorist organizations, like Hezbollah, are plotting against the United States and its allies every day. I commend the Administration for confronting this difficult but critical challenge. Assad has slaughtered more than 100,000 people and stoked sectarianism throughout the region. He has crossed more than a red line and the United States must act in the interest of our national and global security.
I have just finished a trip to Belgium for the annual Brussels Forum which brings together policy makers, civil society groups and opinion leaders for discussion on transatlantic issues. This gathering allowed me to meet with key leaders on the international stage and discuss two issues at the forefront of my foreign policy priorities, the growing threat from Iran and the ongoing crisis related to food security.
I appeared on a panel discussion entitled the "Nuclear Threat from Iran" which included Amb. Vladimir Chizhov, Permanent Representative to the European Union and European Atomic Energy Community, Russian Federation; Dr. Wang Jisi, Dean, School of International Studies, Beijing University; Brig. Gen. (ret.) Yossi Kuperwasser, Deputy Director General, Ministry of Strategic Affairs, Israel; Ruprecht Polenz, Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee, German Parliament. This was a great opportunity to debate these issues and hear from different voices in the international community. While I supported the Obama Administration's diplomatic efforts with Iran, the regime has not responded in kind. I made the case that the Iranian government has clearly not honored its commitments to the International Atomic Energy Agency and that the time has come to implement a strong and effective sanctions package. I was encouraged that there was support among the audience of European leaders for the pressure track against Iran.
Afghanistan was another pressing matter on the agenda. I met with Peter Mackay the Canadian Minister of Defense and thanked him for Canada's troop commitment to Afghanistan and our joint efforts to confront the Taliban across the country.
While in Brussels, I also met individually with President Boris Tadic of Serbia, President Ivo Josipovic from Croatia, and Montenegrin Foreign Minister Milan Rocen. While we have seen remarkable progress in the Balkans in recent years, challenges remain, especially in regard to the deteriorating political environment in Bosnia. My Brussels Forum Co-Chair Senator George Voinovich of Ohio has made the point that we need to remain focused on consolidating regional peace and stability as well as the democratic process in the countries of the Balkans. I valued my exchanges with these important leaders and look forward to monitoring developments in the region.
I had the opportunity to meet briefly with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who underlined the threat from Iran during his speech to the Forum, and with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who appeared on a panel regarding NATO's future.
First thing this morning, I appeared on a panel regarding food security. I have been a strong proponent of global food security and appreciated the opportunity to discuss these critical issues with experts from the U.S. and Europe. With more than 1 billion people hungry in the world, we must and can do more to develop the capabilities of small farmers around the world to grow their own food and bring it to market. This is also a critical national security issue - instability associated with hunger is a solvable problem, and we need to do more to confront this challenge at the front end. The Global Food Security Act, which I have cosponsored with Senator Lugar, addresses these issues and is pending in the Senate. During the panel, I shared thoughts on our legislation and developed a deeper understanding of the growing food security challenges we face.
I have departed Brussels for Vienna where I will meet with officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency to discuss its efforts to curb the Iranian nuclear program and combat nuclear proliferation around the world. While there, I will also visit the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization. These meetings come at a key time when we face an array of nuclear nonproliferation issues in the Senate as well as a new nuclear arms agreement with Russia.
Like many Americans, I continue to watch the events in Iran very closely. This morning, I attended a private breakfast for leading Members of Congress hosted by Special Envoy George Mitchell to discuss recent developments in the Middle East. It should be no surprise that the aftermath of the disputed Iranian presidential elections will impact our overall efforts to revive the Middle East peace process.
Earlier this week, I took to the Senate floor to discuss the situation in Iran and offer my views on how the United States should address Iran’s nuclear program in the coming months. You can see my statement here.