WASHINGTON, DC-U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) today delivered a statement on the floor of the U.S. Senate on the threat posed by the Iranian regime and how the United States can respond in an effective manner. A copy of Senator Casey’s speech is included below.
Senator Casey called upon the United States to take the lead in a concerted campaign to coerce Iran to change course and end its illicit nuclear activities and its support for extremist groups across the Middle East. To achieve these objectives, Senator Casey called for an integrated U.S. strategy based upon diplomatic isolation, economic sanctions and measures to cut Iran off from the global financial system.
“Iran’s leaders must be presented with a fundamental choice: end your defiance of the international community or face growing isolation,” said Senator Casey. “Through its refusal to halt prohibited nuclear activities in the face of multiple United Nations resolutions, its support for extremist groups across the region and its harsh crackdown in recent months on human rights and civil society leaders, the government of Iran has demonstrated why it should be isolated from the international community.”
While Senator Casey acknowledged the threat posed by Iran’s defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, he also cautioned against any rush to use military force:
“The threat posed by an Iranian nuclear weapon is very real. However, we cannot afford to panic and blindly accept worst-case estimates – as we did with Iraq to such tragic ends. That does not mean that we have the luxury to relax or postpone difficult choices, but rather that we can exercise a methodical approach that gradually escalates the diplomatic and economic pressure against Iran in a unified manner.”
Finally, Senator Casey sought to draw a sharp distinction between the oppressive Iranian regime and the people of Iran, who carry legitimate democratic aspirations and are a friend of the United States.
“Few Americans remember that a candlelight vigil was spontaneously organized in Tehran shortly following the 9/11 attacks, attended by thousands of ordinary Iranians, to honor the memory of those who perished in those terrible attacks. I can think of no other Muslim nation where such a public expression of sympathy and solidarity emerged in those grief-stricken days following September 11th.”
Senator Casey is a cosponsor of The Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007 to close existing loopholes in the Iran Sanctions Act that allow subsidiaries of foreign multinational firms to escape U.S. sanctions when they invest in Iran’s energy sector. He also announced his intention to draft legislation to enable the United States to further crack down on Iran’s ability to import gasoline; today, Iran imports as much as 40% of its annual consumption of refined gasoline. The Senator is also a cosponsor of the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act to encourage further divestment of companies that continue to do business with the regime in Tehran.
The full text of Senator Casey’s remarks follow:
U.S. Senator Bob Casey
October 4, 2007
Mr. President, I rise today to speak on the challenge posed by Iran to our national security and the interests of our friends and allies. How the United States should best address the challenge posed by Iran and its leader, President Ahmadinejad, has been much in the news lately. The Iranian President visited New York for the United Nations General Assembly meetings last week and delivered a controversial address at Columbia University. During the very same week, the United States Senate approved a resolution condemning Iranian activities that help destabilize Iraq and calling upon the Administration to take actions to deter future Iranian meddling.
It is no surprise that the debate over how to handle Iran occurs very much in the shadow of the Iraq War. Five years ago, the Congress voted to give the President the authorization to go to war against Saddam Hussein based upon Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction programs. The shocking failure to uncover those WMD programs, and the fatally flawed manner in which the President took our nation to war, must weigh upon all of us as we now debate the right course of action against Iran.
Mr. President, let me be very clear at the outset: through its refusal to halt prohibited nuclear activities in the face of multiple United Nations resolutions, its support for extremist groups across the region and its harsh crackdown in recent months on human rights and civil society leaders, the government of Iran has demonstrated why it should be isolated from the international community. The United States must take the lead in a concerted campaign to coerce Iran into changing course, drawing upon all facets of American power and in close coordination with our friends and allies.
We must always remember that, while the Iranian government may be hostile to our interests and values, it does not speak for the Iranian people. While the Iranian clerical regime, in power since the 1979 revolution, has remained reliably anti-American, the Iranian people, led by a younger generation born after the traumatic events of the late 1970s, are remarkably open to American ideals. Two thirds of the Iranian population is below the age of thirty. These Iranians view the United States as a potential friend, not an implacable enemy. Few Americans remember that a candlelight vigil was spontaneously organized in Tehran shortly following the 9/11 attacks, attended by thousands of ordinary Iranians, to honor the memory of those who perished in those terrible attacks. I can think of no other Muslim nation where such a public expression of sympathy and solidarity emerged in those grief-stricken days following September 11th.
So, in articulating our response to Iran’s recent provocations, we must always distinguish between the oppressive clerical regime and the Iranian people. The mullahs in Tehran would love nothing more than for a perception that the United States, and the broader West by extension, is hostile towards Iran itself; it would spark an instant boost in popularity for the regime. Accordingly, any U.S. policy to defuse Iran’s nuclear program and halt its support to extremist groups elsewhere must be undertaken in a careful fashion, emphasizing that our quarrel lies with the clerical regime, not with the people of Iran.
Mr. President, let me first address Iran’s nuclear program. The Iranian regime has forfeited the good will of the international community by engaging in a secret program over the past two decades to develop the key components of a nuclear fuel cycle – uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing. Those activities can constitute the elements of a peaceful, civilian nuclear program, but the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a signatory, requires that nations fully disclose such activities in an open and transparent fashion. That Iran went to such lengths to conceal its activities, and continues today to refuse to provide a full accounting on the history of its program, leads a reasonable observer to suspect that the program was intended not just for a civilian nuclear program, but also to enable the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.
This crisis came to a head in 2003, when reports from an Iranian exile group prompted the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, to open an investigation. Despite initial efforts by an alliance of European powers to persuade Iran to come clean with the IAEA, Tehran continued to work on its uranium enrichment program, spurning offers of economic and trade benefits. Last year, the United Nations Security Council took action, passing an initial resolution calling upon Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment activities. When Iran ignored that resolution, the Security Council passed two successive resolutions imposing a set of limited sanctions; yet again, the Iranian regime chose to ignore a clear message from the international community.
Today, the United States is in talks with other UN Security Council members on a third, and potentially more far-ranging, round of sanctions. To its credit, the Bush Administration has made very clear to Iran that the United States is willing to join a comprehensive dialogue with Iran and the so-called “EU-3” nations (the UK, France, and Germany) once Iran verifiably suspends its uranium enrichment activities. Iran has refused to do so, and so it is on pace to operate as many as 3000 uranium centrifuges by the end of the year. Under a worst case estimate, if Iran were to eject all international inspectors and operate these 3000 centrifuges round the clock, it could produce sufficient fissile material for one nuclear warhead within a year.
Mr. President, an Iran armed with nuclear weapons would be emboldened to intimidate its neighbors, export Islamic extremism throughout the region, and deter the United States and others from defending their core interests. A regime whose leader has openly called for the destruction of the state of Israel by “wiping it” off the face of the earth cannot be allowed to possess the means to achieve that goal. Furthermore, we cannot abide the risk, however small, that a nuclear Iran may one day decide to share its nuclear technology and material with a client terrorist group like Hamas or Hezbollah.
Iran’s nuclear program also poses a genuine danger to the future of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), an agreement that has helped prevent the nightmare vision of President Kennedy of a world with twenty nuclear powers from coming to fruition. The NPT is based on a fundamental premise; a non-nuclear weapons state is entitled to a civilian nuclear program in exchange for committing to verification and inspections to ensure that it does not produce nuclear weapons. Yet Iran threatens to demonstrate a back door option for future nuclear aspirants: build a civilian program, with a complete nuclear fuel cycle, in open view to acquire the basic knowledge to produce nuclear fissile material. After achieving that goal, a nation can then withdraw from the NPT and, utilizing the knowledge gained from its civilian program, build nuclear weapons. This so-called “virtual nuclear weapon” threatens to undermine the NPT and lead to a world where multiple states are poised on the thin line between civilian nuclear power and weapons programs. For that reason, the international community must demonstrate a united front to compel Iran away from that path through diplomatic and economic pressure.
The threat posed by an Iranian nuclear weapon is very real. However, we cannot afford to panic and blindly accept worst-case estimates – as we did with Iraq to such tragic ends. Iran has made great strides in its nuclear program over the past three years – but it must do much more if it seeks a nuclear weapon. We do not know to what extent those Iranian centrifuges already produced are operationally active and whether they have been linked together in a required “enrichment cascade”. We do not know whether the Iranian regime has begun work on warhead design so that any highly enriched uranium that may eventually be produced can be fabricated into an actual nuclear weapon. It is those uncertainties, and the recognition that any “crash program” to build a nuclear weapon will encounter inevitable difficulties, that explain why our intelligence community has judged that Iran is not likely to acquire a nuclear weapon until the early to middle part of the next decade. This conclusion is spelled out in the most recent National Intelligence Estimate.
Based upon what the International Atomic Energy Agency has been reporting with regard to the Iranian nuclear program, and what our own intelligence community is telling us, we have time to resolve this very serious challenge. That does not mean that we have the luxury to relax or postpone difficult choices, but rather that we can exercise a methodical approach that gradually escalates the diplomatic and economic pressure against Iran in a unified manner.
We must present a very clear choice to the Iranian regime, one that will be visible to the people of Iran: End all illicit nuclear activities, come back into compliance with IAEA safeguards, and provide full transparency. In return, the United States and our European partners will be prepared to return to the table and discuss potential economic and trade benefits. If Iran chooses the path of continued defiance, we must show that the international community is prepared to deny Iran the benefits of the global economy, including trade in key energy products, facilitation of essential financial transactions, and investment in key economic sectors.
Mr. President, Iran’s nuclear program is not the only threat that emanates from Tehran today. Just as critical is Iran’s ongoing support for extremist movements across the region, ranging from Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon to Shiite militia forces in Iraq. Unfortunately, Iran’s leadership today has made the strategic decision to support those forces promoting chaos and instability across the Middle East. The Iranian government has placed itself on the side of those who are undermining democratically elected governments, fomenting violence and anarchy, and contributing to attacks against U.S. forces. So long as the Iranian government continues to bankroll and supply weapons to terrorist groups and insurgent militias, we cannot expect any semblance of constructive dialogue between Tehran and Washington.
The evidence surrounding Iranian involvement in Iraq is particularly disturbing. Iran has interests in Iraq. The Shiite majority that now has power for the first time in Iraq shares vast cultural, religious, and political links with the Iranian people. However, Iran and Iraq are two different nations and the Shiite population in Iraq does not and should not serve as a proxy for the mullahs in Tehran. When the Iranian government provides weapons and financing to sectarian militias battling other Iraqis as well as U.S. forces, it is only exacerbating the violence that currently plagues Iraq.
The Administration, supported by our military leadership, has alleged that the Iranian government has directly supplied insurgent groups in Iraq with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and – most dangerous of all – the explosive formed penetrators that have served as the most lethal of roadside bombs killing American troops. The evidence that the Administration has provided – serial numbers on the weapons linking them to Iranian sources and eyewitness testimony – is compelling. It remains unclear to what degree this assistance has proceeded with the direct knowledge of Iran’s senior ruling leadership. Regardless, the Iranian government must be held responsible for all activity emanating from its territory or carried out by its agents. Iran must work with the United States and the international community in supporting a stable Iraq and de-emphasizing sectarian conflict there.
The question that we, as Senators, must answer, is how best to persuade and, if necessary, compel Iran to change its behavior – both in terms of its nuclear program and its support for extremist groups. What are the tools available to us to persuade Iran that its current course of action will only further isolate it from the international community? How can we promote fissures inside the Iranian regime between the hard line elements associated with President Ahmadinejad and more pragmatic figures? I believe that the United States should implement a strategy of containment to deny the Iranian regime any benefits from its nuclear program and support for extremist forces, while laying out potential incentives if and when the regime changes its behavior. Let me be clear: military force is always an option, but it is not an option that makes sense under current circumstances.
Instead, the United States should pursue a three-pronged strategy against Iran’s nuclear program and support for extremist groups. First, the United States should continue its campaign to diplomatically isolate Iran at the United Nations Security Council. The Security Council has condemned Iran’s evasion and deceit of the IAEA and called on Iran, in order to restore the world’s confidence in the ostensibly peaceful aims of its nuclear program, to halt all work on its uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing activities. While some may view that action as insignificant, it is important to remember that Iran never expected Russia or China, its two primary benefactors, to sign on to such resolutions. Yet the State Department has carefully brought along Moscow and Beijing at every step so that the international community is speaking in a unified voice to Tehran. Today, the Iranian regime is viewed as a pariah state at the international level, with sanctions imposed by the Security Council and key officials linked to the nuclear program prohibited from international travel.
Now is the time for the United States to further isolate Iran diplomatically. Washington can encourage other nations to avoid contact with Mr. Ahmadinejad, who should be shunned first and foremost for his noxious anti-Semitic remarks. The U.S. should propose, as one element of the next sanctions resolution, to impose a complete prohibition on arms exports to Iran. To the extent that we can make a clear linkage between Iran’s defiance on its nuclear program and its further diplomatic isolation, more and more Iranians, including influential officials in the government and military, will question the wisdom of proceeding with its nuclear program.
Second, the United States should take action, in concert with other nations, to apply substantial pressure on Iran’s energy sector. Although Iran boasts the world’s second largest oil reserves, its oil production has been falling in recent years, as its oil fields suffer from a lack of investment. More importantly, as Iran’s population continues to grow by a half million people every year, demand for oil and other energy resources are beginning to outstrip domestic supply. Iran will soon be forced to confront a choice between diverting petroleum exports to its domestic needs, thus surrendering much needed foreign currency, or face increasing shortages at home.
There are concrete steps that the Congress can take. S. 970, the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007, of which I am proud to serve as a co-sponsor, would close existing loopholes in the Iran Sanctions Act that currently allow subsidiaries of foreign multinational firms to escape U.S. sanctions when they invest in Iran’s energy sector. I agree with Representative Tom Lantos, who has pushed forward similar legislation on the House side, when he says that the ultimate U.S. goal should be zero foreign investment in Iran’s energy sector until it changes course on its nuclear program.
Iran exhibits a particular vulnerability when it comes to gasoline. It is still suffering from the after effects of the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, when much of Iran’s capacity to refine gasoline was destroyed. In recent years, U.S. sanctions have limited the ability of Iran to rebuild this refining capacity through foreign investment. Accordingly, Iran is forced to import as much as 40% of its annual consumption of refined gasoline, despite its vast oil riches. This imbalance between supply and demand for refined gasoline is exacerbated by Iran’s practice of subsidizing gasoline prices for its citizens, which only artificially boosts demand. Today, Iran ensures that refined gasoline is available to Iranian citizens at the subsidized price of 38 cents per gallon. It is no wonder, then, that Iran earlier this year was forced to take the draconian step of rationing gasoline, limiting owners of private vehicles to no more than 26 gallons of fuel per month. This decision produced a backlash in the country, with more than 50 petrol stations in Iran burned to the ground by angry mobs and plummeting support for Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who largely ascended to power in 2005 on the basis of his promise to improve Iran’s economy.
Iran’s growing shortages of refined gasoline is a golden opportunity for the international community as it tightens the screws on Tehran’s leadership. The average Iranian will question why Iran’s leadership continues to pursue an illicit nuclear program at the cost of gasoline shortages and economic unrest. For that reason, I am working on legislation to expand the scope of the Iran Sanctions Act to crack down on all foreign exports of refined gasoline products to Iran until the leadership there changes course on its nuclear program.
The third and final pillar of a comprehensive U.S. strategy to coerce Iran into ending its defiance of the international community is to lay the groundwork for financial sanctions that make it increasingly difficult for Iranian companies and banks to do business with the global economy. The steps taken by the Treasury Department under the leadership of Secretary Paulson and his deputy, Stuart Levey, are a good first step. Utilizing existing U.S. law, such as the Patriot Act, the Treasury Department has convinced a series of major financial institutions in Western Europe and Asia to suspend business with Iranian financial institutions like Bank Saderat and Bank Sepah by cutting off the access of these institutions to the U.S. financial system. The United States can pursue these measures outside the United Nations Security Council, as they involve U.S. laws and regulations. As a result, Iranian firms are increasingly forced to finance their transactions in Euros, not dollars, and find that conducting routine financial transactions to be more difficult and costly. Once again, we must demonstrate to the average Iranian that they are the ones who pay a price for the unwise decisions of the Iranian regime – which will only serve to heighten domestic unrest and dissatisfaction with the regime’s current course.
It is for this reason I am so pleased to co-sponsor the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act, introduced by my colleagues, Senators Obama and Brownback. This legislation would call upon the Treasury Department to publicly identify all companies that invest a minimum level of funds in the Iranian economy, giving pension funds and individual investors an informed choice on whether to continue to direct funds to those firms that do business with Iran. In addition, the legislation would grant the unfettered legal authority to state and local governments to divest their investment holdings of any such firms that do business in Iran. If the State of Pennsylvania wishes to wash its hands clean of any firms that directly or indirectly support Tehran’s pursuit of a nuclear program, this legislation ensures that it can do so, free from any lawsuits.
Mr. President, I wish to conclude this statement by briefly discussing what we should not do. If we are to convince the Iranian regime that a nuclear weapons program and support for extremist groups are not in their best interests, then we should strive to remove any plausible excuse they have for engaging in such behavior. That means the United States should de-emphasize the threat of regime change. When hardliners associated with the Vice President drop hints on their desire to overthrow the Iranian regime and the advantages of using military force, they only reinforce a strong nationalist streak within Iran and serve to rally the Iranian people around an otherwise unpopular government.
The Iranian people rightly aspire for democratic change. To the extent that the U.S. government can support such aspirations in an effective manner, we should do so through quiet assistance to forces promoting civil society and the rule of law inside Iran. People to people exchanges can help bring young Iranians to the United States and demonstrate the benefits of a democratic culture and a government informed by the consent of the people. Credible public diplomacy, including the transmission of accurate and unbiased news into Iran, is another necessary pillar. But, as Iraq has so painfully taught us, imposing democracy at the spear of bayonet is not a realistic option, especially when our military is already so overstretched.
So the United States should talk less about regime change and talk more about behavior change when it comes to Iran. We should make clear that Washington is prepared to engage an Iran that ends its illicit nuclear activities and ceases support for Hamas, Hezbollah, insurgent forces in Iraq, and other extremist groups across the region. Laying out a credible choice to the Iranian regime represents our best hope for defusing the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program and persuading Iran to end its support for anti-democratic groups throughout the Middle East.
The tentative success achieved in North Korea gives us a model for which to aspire. During the President’s first term, his Administration raised the desirability of regime change in Pyongyang at every opportunity. Since 2005, under the leadership of Assistant Secretary Chris Hill, the United States has substituted patient diplomacy for fiery rhetoric and we may finally achieve real success in containing and rolling back North Korea’s nuclear program.
Mr. President, Iran today represents one of the greatest national security challenges to the United States. It is incumbent that we respond to this threat with hardheaded diplomacy and an appropriate set of financial sanctions to squeeze the Iranian economy, putting aside for now ill-advised talk of hasty military action. Iran’s leaders must be presented with a fundamental choice: end your defiance of the international community or face growing isolation.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.