March 21, 2007

Opening Statement of Chairman Chris Dodd - Hearing on "Minimizing Potential Threats from Iran: Assessing the Effectiveness of Current US Sanctions on Iran"

Good morning, and welcome to all of you: Under Secretary Burns, Under Secretary Levey, and Acting Under Secretary Foulon. Thank you for joining us today. Let me take a minute to lay out how we are going to proceed this morning. Under Secretary Burns has a meeting later this morning with the President, and so must leave a little early. I appreciate his willingness to join us early this morning, and want to do what I can to accommodate his and the President’s schedule. I propose that Senator Shelby and I give abbreviated opening statements and that other members withhold their remarks until later in the hearing, so we can immediately turn to our witnesses to hear from them. I would then propose that we have a round of questioning of Mr. Burns by members before he has to depart, followed by questions of the remaining witnesses and members’ statements as they so choose. I recognize that responses to certain foreign policy-related questions have to be tightly coordinated by the agencies represented here, and so this arrangement means once Ambassador Burns leaves, some questions related strictly to US State Department activities may just have to be taken and responded to in writing. So if that’s acceptable, let’s proceed. The purpose of today’s hearing is to assist Congress and the American people to understand and make a judgment about the Administration’s policies toward Iran. The administration has publicly stated, appropriately in my view, that Iran’s leaders must: · scale back its nuclear ambitions; · reverse its support for destabilizing terrorism-related activity in Iraq and throughout the region; · mitigate its opposition to the Middle East peace process; · stop efforts to undermine the legitimate government in Lebanon. I share those publicly stated aspirations. The issue is how do we get there. This morning, the committee will receive testimony from key administration officials charged with implementing US policy with respect to Iran to determine whether current policies are likely to achieve satisfactory policy results, or whether additional measures should be taken by the administration and/or by Congress to achieve these policy goals. It is well known that there are currently many laws on the books providing authority to the Treasury Department, the Commerce Department, the Department of State, and other federal agencies and financial regulators to undertake steps to increase economic pressure on Iran, including by threatening or imposing sanctions on foreign firms supporting Iranian activities; tightening export and re-export controls; accelerating Treasury’s current campaign to press US and foreign private sector entities, including businesses and banks, not to deal with the government of Iran; and taking other similar steps. I support the administration’s efforts to engage systematically the private sector, including businesses and banks, in efforts to economically isolate and pressure Iran. Having said that, I fear that a larger coherent Administration strategy and vision is lacking. As Members of Congress we cannot ignore the ongoing public debate as to whether critical dialogue, calibrated economic pressure and constructive engagement with Iran could bear fruit or whether the wisest policy is one of containment, sanctions and ultimately, regime change. There has been a similar debate with respect to our policies toward North Korea. I would hope that our witnesses this morning would play a constructive role in that ongoing debate with respect to US policy toward Iran. US economic sanctions are a critical component of our policy toward Iran, as they have been for some time – in this and previous administrations. But sanctions alone are not sufficient. They must be used as effective leverage, undertaken as part of a coherent, coordinated, comprehensive diplomatic and political strategy which tips the scale such that it is more beneficial for Iran to forswear its nuclear weapons ambitions and other behavior that is undermining regional peace and stability. I don’t know if a strict policy of coercion and sanctions will be enough eventually to bring about a more responsible Iranian government. But I do know that the strong international reaction against the Iranian president’s disgusting declarations about the Holocaust and Israel’s right to exist; the public rebuke of the president by the Supreme Leader there for his reckless posturing on Iran’s nuclear ambitions; the president’s party’s weak showing in recent local elections, and other similar recent developments offer reasons for hope– hope that if we work more intensively with our allies, we might be able to identify and engage with Iran’s more moderate leadership inside and outside of the current government that could eventually be persuaded to step back from its nuclear ambitions. But all of our strategic partners--including the Europeans, the Russians, the Chinese, the Indians and moderate Arab states throughout the Middle East–must agree on an approach that will take sustained diplomatic work to achieve. Recent US diplomatic and political efforts to develop such a unified front against Iran are coming very late in the game. It was very unfortunate, in my view, that European efforts to secure agreements with the more moderate Khatami government were not encouraged or supported by the administration, at a time when US international leverage was decidedly greater than it is today. Moreover, comments by faceless administration officials hinting at the possibility of military actions against Iran; and leaks about plans being drawn up by the Pentagon to target Iranian sites–all play into the hands of extremist forces in the region, and raise questions about US intentions even among our allies who might otherwise be with us. The administration is in catch-up mode in the diplomacy department with respect to Iran, after years of sitting on the sidelines diplomatically. As with most international efforts, only coordinated, effective, multilateral efforts have any likelihood of success. The administration’s recent efforts at the UN seem to be bearing some fruit in a second and tougher UN sanctions resolution, but it remains to be seen how tough the Security Council will be with respect to Iran. US representation at the UN, until recent changes in personnel, has made American efforts to galvanize international support with respect to Iran and other issues of importance to the United States more difficult. It is my hope that with the appointment of Ambassador Khalilzad that will change. Over the years, this Committee has provided various statutory tools for U.S. Administrations to use as leverage in their efforts to induce change in Tehran’s behavior. With modifications to the Bank Secrecy Act, Congress has empowered the Department’s Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, working with the Office of Foreign Assets Control, to freeze funds and recommend the prosecution of entities and individuals who seek to exploit the domestic or global financial system to support international terrorism and weapons proliferation. Congress has also endeavored, through the enactment and re-enactment of the Iran Sanctions Act, to provide the Executive Branch with clear authority to, among other things, sanction foreign companies who invest in Iran’s principal economic sector -- the energy industry. Yet, to date, despite more than $125 billion in reported investments in Iran’s energy sector by foreign investors, not one foreign energy concern has been sanctioned. I and other members of the Committee are anxious to hear from our witnesses this morning why this has been the practice. To sum up, it is my hope that today’s hearing will help us to better understand the administration’s policy goals as they relate to Iran, what part economic sanctions play in advancing those goals, what if any additional bilateral and multilateral sanctions would accelerate the achievement of those goals, and what Congress should do to advance that process. I know that we have set an ambitious agenda for our witnesses today, but this is a terribly important subject that demands difficult questions and warrants honest answers. I’m sure we’ll have both this morning. Let me now turn to my colleague, Senator Shelby for his opening remarks before hearing from our witnesses.