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Remarks by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY)

December 8, 2011

Sen. Menendez's Remarks

Thank you for inviting me today to participate in the FDD’s Annual Policy Summit – to discuss the changing  Middle East and what that means in terms of shifts in ideology, power, and alliances and I would add, U.S. policy.  I want to thank FDD, including Chairman James Woolsey and the Foundation’s distinguished Executive Team for the invitation and advocacy on these important issues.

The course of events in the Middle East has profoundly altered and affected not only the political landscape of that region but the futures of people in Tunis, Cairo, Tripoli and hopefully Damascus and Tehran.  A complicated region may become more complicated.  And while U.S. policy must acknowledge these changes and hopefully we welcome new countries to the league of democratic nations, we must remember what I consider to be my first guideline in the foreign policy realm – to act in the national security interest of the United States.  While my views may differ from some in this room – I am a big “D” democrat -- today I think we are in complete agreement on these very important issues, and specifically on the need to aggressively address Iran’s effort to obtain the knowledge and materials to create a nuclear weapon.

But before we talk about Iran, I want to say word about another country and another dictator and the role of the international community in responding to the tragedy in Syria.  According to a UN report released last week, more than 4,000 people have been killed in the uprising – most if them by Assad’s security forces.  The Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria found that Syrian government forces committed crimes against humanity, including the killing and torturing of children, murder, and rape.  In an exclusive interview with Barbara Walters this week, Assad vehemently denied the charges, stating that evidence cited was not reliable, was manufactured and that the UN was not a credible organization.  Assad also stated that he had no concerns about attempts to further isolate his regime through sanctions.  I think we might be able to change his mind on that point.

I strongly support Senator Gillibrand’s efforts to extend CISADA-like sanctions to Syria – to give countries a choice of doing business with the United States or Syria, but not both.

I raise the issue of Syria because despite the best intentioned efforts to use multilateral diplomacy and nuanced policy threats against the likes of Assad and Ahmadinejad, the only thing dictators understand -- the only way to affect their behavior -- is through the use of blunt tools that starve their corrupt regimes of the economic resources they need to sustain their farcical empires and repress their people.

We need to understand that dictators whether in Iran, Syria, Cuba, North Korea or Burma don’t play by the rules and UN resolutions can’t embarrass them into becoming civilized actors.  The only question is whether or not we have the political will to affect the necessary change.

In the case of Iran I’ve argued that we have no choice but to impose the most robust sanctions possible because we will NEVER permit Iran to have a nuclear weapon and the timeline for acting is now - NOT when we are facing no other choice than military action.

Last week, the U.S. Senate unanimously voted to support this option – to send a message to Iran and any other nation that would do business with the tyrants in Tehran that you have to make a choice between interacting with Iran’s $350 billion economy or the United States’ $14 trillion economy.

The fact is the recent IAEA report described, in greater detail than we have publically heard to date, Iran’s weapons-related efforts in its nuclear program since 2003.
The Report plainly stated that Iran’s nuclear program has a military component...that Iran has expanded its uranium enrichment and conversion activities at declared facilities and is seeking to develop as many as 10 new enrichment facilities, that they are undisclosed nuclear facilities in Iran, that Iran is seeking back channels to acquire dual-use technology and materials, that Iran is experimenting and testing detonators and initiation systems critical to creating a nuclear weapon, and that Iran may be working on an indigenous design for a nuclear weapon, including a nuclear payload small enough to fit on Iran’s long-range Shahab 3 missile, a missile capable of reaching Israel.
These public revelations have lead to an increase in multilateral sanctions on the Iranian regime, and I applaud the recent actions of Canada and the UK to align sanctions, but let’s not forget that the nations with far greater economic investments in Iran – Russia, China  - are stonewalling our efforts.

Given what appears to be a shortening time line until Iran has a nuclear weapon, it would seem that we are not doing enough -- fast enough.

Iran has adapted to CISADA and has negotiated work-arounds to constraints on its financial transactions and its ability to acquire requisite materials and knowledge to advance its clandestine program.

The case for hardening – and broadening -- our sanctions to follow the money was made clear by the IAEA Report.

In my view, tightening the screws on Iran genuinely advances the cause of stability and peace in the Middle East and helps us maintain an advantageous balance of power that protects Israel and the region -- and ultimately the world -- from the intended or unintended consequences of proliferation.

Last week, the Senate voted unanimously for considerable more robust approach – approving comprehensive sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran and on any and all nations doing business with the Central Bank.

In my view, we had to follow the money, and the amendment did exactly that.

There were those who raised concerns about the impact of the amendment on our allies and our multilateral diplomacy efforts, but the European nations and the French in particular are considering their own Iranian oil embargo.

They’ve recognized that the Iranian nuclear program has a short fuse and that immediate action is necessary.

As for other countries, I’m frankly not concerned with how the Chinese feel about sanctions given that they are currently one of the greatest violators of our current sanctions regime.

Moreover, despite our sanctions, the Iranian regime continues to sell 2.3 million barrels per day of crude oil which generates over $80 billion annually for the Iranian treasury.

The sale of Iranian crude represents between 50 to 75 percent of the Iranian regime’s budget, literally fueling the regime’s ability to export terrorism, build a nuclear weapons program, and repress its own population.

It is clear we must find a way to target this lifeblood of the Iranian regime.

In addition to these sanctions, I also intend for Congress to pass legislation to make the United States an Iranian oil free zone to ensure that when Americans fill up their tanks that are not unwittingly support Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

We are working with the Senate Banking Committee on a comprehensive Iran bill – based on my pending legislation - that would shut down many of the work-arounds Iran has devised and further tighten the noose on the IRGC, Iranian joint-ventures and companies that engage in shipping business with Iran.

We marry this approach with enhanced help for Iranian civil society, enhancing assistance available under the Iran Freedom Support Act to include Internet-based outreach to the Iranian people; requiring the appointment of a Presidential Special Representative on Human Rights and Democracy in Iran; and requiring the creation of comprehensive strategy to promote Internet freedom and access to information in Iran.

The evidence for strengthening sanctions and doing as much as we can to follow the money is clear.

Several major energy traders continue to make prohibited sales of refined petroleum to Iran, yet our response has been to sanction the front companies, rather than the major figures behind these sales.

China also continues to be a major Iranian trading partner and has agreements with Iran for nearly $40 billion in investments to develop Iranian oil fields.

We must ask: why has the administration been reluctant to sanction Chinese companies when there is ample evidence that they are violating our laws, and there is precedent for us sanctioning Chinese companies for nuclear and weapons proliferation concerns?

The time to act is now.  I welcome the Administration’s decision to designate the entire Iranian banking sector as a primary money laundering concern and a threat to government and financial institutions, but I think we need more and we need it now.

Based on the vote last week I think it is fair to say that Congress also recognizes the need for aggressive action.

We cannot, we must not, we will not allow Iran to threaten the stability of the region and the peace and security of the world.

This is an extraordinary time in world history and a tectonic shift in the politics of the Middle East and in American attitudes.

Frankly, honestly, none of us knows where this will end.

We are not sure who will lead the new democracies that will rise in the region or even whether it will be democracies that ultimately take shape and what new governments will think of their neighbors or the U.S..

What we do know is that  the process is not likely to be linear, that there may be more chaos, that it is likely we will see governments elected with whom we don’t see eye to eye and other who join in common cause.

Our focus, my focus, however, will be on the national security interests of the United States and its allies, with our policies proceeding from that directive.

Thank you very much.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps, and Global Narcotics Affairs as well as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development. After 9/11, Sen. Menendez earned national recognition for his leadership in reforming the country's intelligence, security, and public health systems and for fighting to establish an independent commission to investigate the terrorist attacks on our country. Most recently, he co-authored with Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) an amendment to sanction the Central Bank of Iran, which the Senate passed unanimously.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), first elected to Congress in 1988, represents New York’s 17th Congressional District. Rep. Engel serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee and chairs the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus. He was the author of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003 under which President Obama recently imposed additional sanctions due to the Assad regime's violence against its people. In 2008, Rep. Engel was the lead Democratic sponsor of a resolution condemning the Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli civilians by Hamas. He has also worked to achieve official U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and is at the forefront of Congressional efforts to oppose unilateral Palestinian statehood initiatives at the United Nations.