Prepared Statement by Congressman Benjamin Gilman Before the House International Relations Committee Hearing: Events in the Middle East (Iran, Iraq and Libya)

July 29, 1998

Weapon Program: 

  • Missile

Today, the Committee on International Relations is convening another hearing on "Developments in the Middle East", and we are pleased to have Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs, Martin lndyk, joining us. Our last hearing on Middle East regional concerns took place in early March. Today, over four months later, changes in US policy on a number of matters have taken place.

Of particular note are Administration statements and actions regarding Iran, Libya, and Iraq. In her remarks on June 17, Secretary of State Albright !aid out a road map for improved relations between Iran and the United States; yet the map contains no landmarks or road signs indicating what steps, if any, we should take to begin the process.

The missile test conducted on July 21 by Iran poses serious national security challenges for the United States and our allies in the region, particularly if follow-on tests allow that country to put a medium and long range missile force in place. Iran appears to be going full speed ahead with its weapons of mass destruction programs including the means to deliver them. And there is little indication that Russian entities have stopped supplying Iran with key missile assistance and technology needed to put its missile force in place.

Accordingly, the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act was adopted by overwhelming margins. The legislation requires sanctions on foreign entities that assist Iran's ballistic missile programs. Yet, the Administration vetoed the legislation on June 23 on the grounds that it would be counterproductive in obtaining Russian government cooperation to stop the technology transfers.

The promise of an executive order delayed a congressional veto override, but an override is still certainly possible.

We also have serious concerns about how to address the ongoing threats from. Iraq, and as you know, just a few days ago, this Committee marked up a resolution that finds Iraq in material breach of its requirements of the postwar cease-fire. We differ also with the Administration over how to support opposition efforts.

As for Libya, the Administration has shifted course, and now agrees to allow a Scottish court, sitting at the Hague, to try the two Libyan intelligence agents accused of masterminding the 1988 bombing of Pan American flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

This proposal was offered by Libyan leader Muammar Kaddafi in 1994, but the US and the United Kingdom rejected it because we wanted the suspects extradited to Scotland or the United States. We hope to learn more from Secretary Indyk about the Administration's change in policy, and what prompted it.

And, as always, the Middle East peace process looms large. The Israelis and Palestinians are now face to face negotiations, begun just as a Palestinian terrorist thankfully failed to detonate a car bomb on Jaffa Road.

Chairman Arafat, now in Austria, the current EU chair, continues to call for international pressure on Israel, on the heels of Egyptian promotion of a joint initiative with France to convene an international conference that would pressure Israel.

Additionally, the Jerusalem Committee of the Organization of Islamic Conference meets today at the foreign minister level in Rabat, Morocco, and the Tunisian government has apparently decided to close its trade office in Tel Aviv.

The Tunisian action follows the denial of entry visas to Israelis who wanted to take part in European Mediterranean meetings, as well as the Tunisian refusal of a US request to host a Middle East/North Africa economic summit. It is unhelpful, and we would like to know what the State Department has done to reverse the decision. Moreover, in the Gulf, border tensions between Yemen and Saudi Arabia over a disputed island have produced casualties, and scores of people have died in Yemen as a result of the lifting of fuel subsidies.