Casey Floor Statement on Iranian Elections and U.S. Policy

WASHINGTON, DC- U.S. Senator Bob Casey today made the following statement on the Senate floor:

“Mr. President, I want to convey some brief remarks on the remarkable events we are witnessing unfold in Iran.  It is too soon to tell what will happen.  We do not know if Iran’s brittle theocratic regime will hear out the voices of reform emanating in such powerful fashion from the streets of Iran today.  We do not know if a credible investigation of serious electoral irregularities will occur.  But I am confident that the events of this past weekend will be recorded in history books as a major milestone for the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people.  While the hardliners that continue to rule Iran today may further entrench their power in coming days, they are only planting the seeds for their ultimate defeat by their response to democratic voices with force and suppression.

“It is a promising sign that Iran’s Supreme Leader has called upon the all-powerful Guardian Council to review the electoral results and assess the claims of serious irregularities, including vote-rigging and ballot fraud, in the national election.  However we should not get our hopes raised that justice is imminent.  In the last Iranian presidential election, held in 2005, there were also serious questions of fraud raised after Mr. Ahmadinejad came out of nowhere to win the election.  Yet the final results of that investigation were never published, and Mr. Ahmadinejad’s declared victory stood.  That precedent leads me to share deep skepticism that the Iranian regime will engage in an honest review of the election count.

“President Obama and his senior national security team have refrained from extensive commentary on the elections in recent days.  That is as it should be; the U.S. government should not give the Iranian regime any flimsy rationales for a further crackdown on protesters and reformist leaders.  However, Administration officials, led by Vice President Biden, have made clear that the strategy of diplomatic engagement with Iran’s leadership to bring a peaceful resolution of  Iran’s nuclear program will continue, regardless of who may comprise that leadership or how they have assumed power.

“That is the right strategy; we must deal with Iran as it is, not as what we may wish it to be.  For too long, the United States deprived itself of the power of its diplomacy on a mistaken insistence that Iran agree to a set of preconditions before talks could even commence.  Talking to your enemy can never be viewed as a concession; the United States spoke to the Soviet Union during the worst depths of the Cold War. 

“But diplomacy cannot be the only option the United States pursues with Iran; the President knows this and has reaffirmed that other options are open to the United States on multiple occasions.  Any effective strategy towards Iran must offer the regime a clear choice when it comes to its nuclear program:  Come into compliance with multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions and reap the benefits of economic engagement and warmer diplomatic ties OR face continued economic sanctions and international isolation that will steadily worsen if Iran continues to engage in illicit nuclear activities.

“Effective diplomacy is successful if it can fully convey that choice to the decision makers in Iran.  The Congress can also play a useful role here in elucidating the consequences Iran faces when it makes this choice on its nuclear program.  Some may call it the “good cop, bad cop” strategy; I simply prefer calling it diplomatic leverage that our negotiators can employ if and when they do sit down at the table with Iranian representatives.

“For those reasons, I am proud to have joined my colleague, Sam Brownback, in introducing the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act.  This legislation would authorize state and local governments, as they see appropriate, to direct divestment from, and prevent future investment in, companies that hold investments of $20 million or more in Iran’s energy sector.  Mr. President, there is a growing divestment movement across the country in response to Iran’s accelerating nuclear program, its support of Hamas and Hezbollah, and hateful statements against Israel perpetrated by its President and others in Iran’s senior leadership. 

“Unfortunately, the federal courts have ruled that divestment actions undertaken against a single nation may contradict the President’s constitutional authority to enjoy exclusive authority over our nation’s diplomatic relations.  Thus, state and local governments undertake divestment measures with some legal jeopardy – the Justice Department in the past has taken legal action against state/local governments in cases involving other nations.

“The Iran Sanctions Enabling Act protects the rights of state and local governments to ensure that their pensions funds and other investment funds are not invested in companies that do business with a regime like Iran.  It is carefully targeted to focus only on financial ties with Iran’s energy sector, to hit Iran where it is economically most vulnerable.  The bill includes a sunset provision to lift this authorization once the President certifies that Iran has ceased providing support for acts of international terrorism and has ceased the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.  I am proud to have assumed the lead Democrat role on this legislation, taking over for President Obama, who had served in the lead role when he was a U.S. Senator in the last Congress.

“Mr. President, let me also take a brief moment to comment on the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, of which I am proud to be a co-sponsor, along with the majority of the United States Senate.  This bill would clarify existing legal ambiguity by authorizing the President to sanction foreign firms involved in supplying Iran with refined gasoline and/or assisting Iran with increasing its refining capacity.

“Iran is forced to import as much as 40% of its annual gasoline consumption, due to the fact that much of its refining infrastructure was destroyed during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and economic sanctions in place since then have limited outside foreign investment.  Targeting Iranian gasoline consumption is a promising venue for tightening the screws on Iran’s leadership.  The average Iranian will question why the regime prioritizes a nuclear program condemned by the international community at the cost of serious gasoline shortages. 

“Mr. President, the images in recent days have been stirring.  Just yesterday, we witnessed a procession of hundreds of thousands of Iranians, both young people dressed in modern attire and elderly women wearing traditional veils, marching in silence through downtown Tehran.  Indeed, whenever a chant or shout emerged from the crowd, it was quickly hushed by the crowd, seeking to avoid any provocation for the riot police standing watch to move in and break up the march.  It is easy to forget, with all the incendiary rhetoric from leaders like Ahmadinejad that the Iranian people remain fundamentally pro-American and envy our democracy and personal liberties.

“This week is a dark moment for the Iranian people, as their legitimate aspirations for greater reform have been apparently sidetracked.  But I am optimistic on their future and look forward to the day that the United States and Iran can once again be at peace and mutual respect with one another.

“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”


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