Prepared Statement by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Before the House International Relations Committee Hearing: Iranian Proliferation: Implications for Terrorists, their State-Sponsors, and U.S. Countermeasures

June 24, 2004

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
Iran's unconventional weapons program and its fondness for using terrorism as statecraft, have made this pariah state a litmus test of President George Bush's war against terror. A nuclear Iran combined, with its deep-rooted terrorist infrastructure, is an Iran that must be stopped.

Unfortunately, the Iranian regime received another pass from the IAEA Board last week, as the resolution adopted had no references to the UN Security Council or any further action to hold Iran accountable.

For at least two decades, the Iranian regime has been pursuing a covert nuclear program. It has undertaken a number of efforts for the manufacture and testing of centrifuge components, including at facilities owned by military industrial organizations.

Concurrently, Iran is pursuing another approach to uranium enrichment that uses lasers, a complex technology rarely used by even the most advanced countries, because it is not cost efficient.

Iran has expressed interest in the purchase of up to six additional nuclear power plants and is pursuing a heavy water research reactor that would be well suited for plutonium production. This represents yet another path to nuclear weapons, which endangers not only the region, but also the world.

According to the IAEA report of November of last year, the Iranian regime admitted that it had failed to report a large number of activities involving nuclear material. This same report noted that Iran's deceptions have dealt with the most sensitive aspects of the nuclear cycle.

Further, the IAEA could not disprove that Iran's nuclear program was not for weapons development.

Within this context, Iranian news sources were filled with statements referring to Iran's right to possess nuclear weapons within the current international context.

One, in particular, referenced: "the natural and obvious right of the Iranian nation, and no power, whether of government or international assemblies, has the right to…cause any restriction or limitation on the exercise of this right in the field of nuclear activities by Iran."

Move forward to February and March of this year.

The resolution adopted by the Board enumerated more recent Iranian breaches, including failing to disclose work on advanced P-2 centrifuges for uranium enrichment and work on Polonium 210, an element that could be used in nuclear explosions.

Come June 1st. The IAEA reports a series of unresolved issues that strike at the core of Iran's efforts to acquire a nuclear weapons capability.

The response from the Iranian Foreign Minister and the Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council was that Iran has to be recognized by the international community as a member of the nuclear club; that "This is an irreversible path."

The Central Intelligence Agency has warned that even intrusive IAEA inspections may not prevent Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons because Tehran could be using legitimate fuel production to cover up its weapons program.

It is imperative that the international community join forces to deny Iran any and all avenues toward achieving nuclear status, including punitive measures to bring to a screeching halt Iran's progress on this path.

To reiterate, if last week's meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors is any indication, the prospects for success look grim.

The Board's failure to report the Iran case to the UN Security Council sends a dangerous message to other pariah states and potential proliferators.

Further, given the role that certain European countries have played in undermining the authority of the IAEA, cutting side deals with the Iranians and succumbing to Iranian intimidation, what options does the U.S. have?

What efforts can be undertaken to delay, deter and prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear capability?

Undersecretary of State John Bolton will address these and other critical issues.

Nevertheless, the urgency of the Iran threat is not limited exclusively to its nuclear intentions. As a Senior DOD official underscored during a briefing in September 2002, Iran "is the full ticket."

They have medium and long-range missile programs. They also have a chemical and biological weapons program.

Most importantly, Iran remains the most active state-sponsor of terrorism in the world.

As Dr. Paul Leventhal, one of the witnesses in our second panel, recently articulated, when you have a nation that actively supports terrorism and seeks nuclear weapons, you cannot rule out the possibility that it could and would collaborate with terrorists to carry out nuclear terrorism.

Therefore, this hearing seeks to address, not just the Iran nuclear threat, in itself, but the implications for unconventional terrorism and proliferation among states in the region.

On the first issue, it seeks to answer such questions as:

  • Would a nuclear Iran enhance the capacity of the terrorist network?
  • If Iran develops a nuclear capability, will it cede its other non-conventional weapons to the terrorist network?

Further, what is the likelihood of terrorist use of nuclear, radiological, chemical or biological weapons?

While there is no specific evidence or analyses asserting Iran's willingness to become a routine purveyor of unconventional weapons to non-state actors, there is the example of the Karine-A.

Iran shipped 50 tons of heavy weaponry to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, which is headquartered in Damascus, with bases in Syrian-occupied Lebanon. The arsenal contained 107 rockets, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, and anti-tank missiles.

With respect to cooperation between Iran and other terrorist nations, former CIA Director Tenet noted in his February 2004 threat assessment briefing to Congress: "Iran appears to be willing to supply missile-related technology to countries of concern and publicly advertises its artillery rockets and related technologies, including guidance instruments and missile propellants."

Certainly, the interest exists on the part of terrorist groups to secure chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons capabilities.

It has been reported for some time that al-Qaeda has been seeking these weapons.

The trial of bin Laden and other al-Qaeda operatives for the August 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, shed new light on this. Prosecution witnesses detailed their efforts to assist bin Laden in an attempt to acquire uranium, presumably for the development of nuclear weapons.

On June 13th of last year, news sources reported that authorities in Thailand intercepted a man trying to sell radioactive material that could have been used to make "dirty bombs."

One may assume that these efforts are limited to al-Qaeda but, as some terrorism experts have affirmed, there is increasing evidence that al-Qaeda is now cooperating with Hezbollah, which enjoys backing from Iran and Syria.

Hezbollah is not only based in Syrian-occupied Lebanon, but also, according to public reports, in the "triborder" region of South America where Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina meet, and has operational capabilities in Canada.

Thus, when we talk about the far-reaching implications of Iran's nuclear efforts, we should not and must not discuss it in a vacuum.

It is difficult to assess how aggressively Iran would exploit its nuclear capability and how it would behave, but one thing is clear: an Iran with nuclear weapons could significantly alter the regional dynamics and lead to further proliferation in the region-both from other state-sponsors of terrorism, such as Syria, or from U.S. allies which may feel threatened.

Michael Eisenstadt, who will also testify as part of the second panel, will address some of these issues.

Iranian nuclear capabilities would change perceptions of the military balance in the region, and could pose serious challenges to the U.S. in terms of deterrence and defense.

To answer questions about how this will alter the U.S. defense posture and military strategy in the region, DOD has provided us with Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Peter Flory.

Ultimately, at the crux of any solution to Iran's nuclear program and to the implications it bears for proliferation in the region, is the need to deny and deprive terrorists-whether state or non-state actors-the access to the technology, the parts, and the materials, to develop an unconventional weapons arsenal.

A positive first step was taken on April 28th of this year, when the UN Security Council adopted a U.S. resolution that underscored the threat of terrorist entities acquiring, developing, dealing in, or using these deadly weapons and their means of delivery.

Among other determinations, it committed all States to undertake and enforce measures to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons and their means of delivery.

However, as President Bush noted in his speech earlier this year at the National Defense University, "There is a consensus among nations that proliferation cannot be tolerated. Yet this consensus means little unless it is translated into action."

The jury is still out on the resolve and commitment of some of our allies.

We must not allow our allies to deceive themselves about Iran's nuclear intentions and the broad-based support that the weapons program enjoys throughout the government, particularly among the "reformist" clergy.

Since Khatami's public announcement on February 9, 2003, that Iran was developing its own means to produce nuclear fuel, senior Iranian officials have made it abundantly clear that the nuclear program, in their eyes, makes the Islamic Republic more secure, reinforcing the regime from real or perceived existential threats to their existence.

We look forward to hearing from our witnesses today on how to address these critical threats to U.S. national security and priorities.