Mr. Chairman, I'm pleased to have the opportunity to speak to you today on one of our most important foreign policy challenges, Iran. I want to discuss our areas of concern regarding Iran and how we are addressing those concerns. I will also discuss our current view of Iran and what changes we see from the new government there.
U.S. concerns regarding some aspects of Iranian foreign policy practices remain intact, as does our determination to effectively address them. As the Department's recently published annual report on terrorism made clear, Iran continues to be the most active state sponsor of terrorism. Throughout 1997, Iran continued to train and equip known terrorist groups, especially Hezbollah, Hamas and PIJ, and to support their violent opposition to the Middle East peace process. Iranian agents assassinated at least 13 Iranian dissidents abroad in 1997; at least two of those attacks occurred after President Khatami's inauguration. The fatwa against Salman Rushdie remains in place, along with the $2.5 million reward offered for his murder.
The Iranian regime still seeks to project its regional influence through a conventional military build-up and through the development of weapons of mass destruction and advanced missile systems. Iran continues to pursue nuclear technologies, chemical and biological weapons components and production materials. Iran's acquisition of ever more sophisticated missile technology presents an increasing threat to our friends and allies as well as our own military presence in the Gulf. In particular, Iran's pursuit of an indigenous capability to produce long-range ballistic missiles poses a threat to the stability of the Middle East, a region of vital interest to the United States.
The international community remains deeply concerned by Iran's human rights record. While the Special Representative has documented some progress, particularly in the area of freedom of speech, the UN High Commission on Human Rights once again this year adopted a resolution expressing concern regarding continuing human rights abuses such as severe restrictions on freedom of religion and the use of brutal and inhuman punishments such as stoning, and the use of the death penalty for non-violent offenses.
The U.S. has sought to address these issues by first, obstructing Iran's ability to acquire the technology and materials necessary to develop weapons of mass destruction and missile systems. This has been one of the highest priorities of the Clinton Administration ... a challenge that the President, Vice President and Secretary of State have devoted considerable energy to confront. We have made real progress with China and Ukraine in restricting nuclear cooperation. We have begun to see the Russian government take tangible steps to shut down the cooperation Iran has received from Russian companies for its Shehab long-range missile program. But more needs to be done. We will continue to pursue this issue with the greatest vigor with the new Russian government which has recommitted itself to a cooperative effort to end assistance by Russian entities to the Iranian missile program.
In recent days President Yeltsin has made strong, helpful comments on the need to enforce export controls on WMD and missile technology. Further, the Russian government appears to be issuing the necessary rules and regulations to implement its January 22 executive order expanding authority to control technologies of concern. Again, full implementation of all of these measures will be key.
We also work assiduously with our international partners to improve cooperation between law enforcement and intelligence organizations to impede the ability of Iran or its surrogates to carry out terrorist attacks and to punish the perpetrators when an attack is successful These measures are not foolproof, but due to strong international cooperation, they are becoming highly effective. Although we must take the lead, we cannot be effective in our nonproliferation and counterterrorism efforts if we act alone.
We continue to apply unilateral economic pressure on Iran to make the point that there is a price to be paid for pursuing policies which violate international norms. Unilateral sanctions have proven costly to U.S. business. However, we believe that Iran poses threats so significant that we have no choice but accept these costs. Economic pressure has an important role in our efforts to convince Iran to cease its efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction and missiles and to support terrorism. We will continue to seek the most effective means of using this policy to further our goal of changing Iran's policies on terrorism, WMD and missile development and other areas of concern.
Our basic purpose is to persuade Iran that it cannot have it both ways: it cannot benefit from participation in the international community while at the same time going around threatening the interests of its member states; that it cannot improve its relations and standing in the West and in the Middle East while at the same time pursuing policies that threaten the peace and stability of a vital region.
Iran can play a constructive role in the Middle East. We would welcome that. Iran can have a constructive relationship with the United States. President Clinton has made clear he would welcome that. We continue to advocate a government-to-government dialogue as the most effective means of addressing the concerns of both countries. But as long as Iran threatens the interests of the United States and our friends in the Middle East, we will continue to oppose it.
We will continue to press for enhanced international cooperation to counter the threat of Iranian WMD and terrorism and to address the human rights situation in Iran. These are issues of fundamental import to the U.S.
For almost a year now, since the election of President Khatami, we have watched events unfold in Iran with great interest. Will Iran's new government change anything? We believe the prospects for change are there. Mohammad Khatami's election in May 1997 reflected this desire for change on the part of a large majority of the Iranian electorate. Khatami was not the candidate of the regime 5 dominant conservative faction.And since his election, he has continued to make clear that he intends to challenge the rule of the conservative clergy by meeting the demands of the Iranian people for greater freedom, more respect for the rule of law and a more promising economic future.
The new government's power and ability to achieve such objectives have been questioned. Yet, since Khatami's inauguration, one surprise has followed another. The Parliament approved all of Khatami's cabinet choices. The UN Special Representative on Human Rights in Iran noted in his most recent report that public debate in Iran has become more open, even on delicate subjects such as rule by religious leadership and the role of women in an Islamic society. Khatami has spoken out on foreign policy issues, and his rhetoric on terrorism, the Middle East peace process and the possibility of people-to-people dialogue with the U.S. has been in sharp contrast to previous Iranian government positions.
Iran's new government has made it clear that it wants increased cultural contacts between the U.S. and Iran. This, in itself, is a significant change. Some steps have already been taken on both sides to encourage such exchanges. We expect these to continue.
Perhaps the most revealing incident since Khatami's inauguration, was the arrest and release of Tehran' 5 mayor, Gholamhossein Karbaschi, whom the Iranian public consider to be one of Iran's most effective public servants. His arrest on corruption charges sparked a potentially serious confrontation between Khatami supporters, who believed the arrest to be politically motivated, and opponents of the President. University students demonstrated in support of Karbaschi and Khatami.
The crisis clearly showed the fault lines within Iran and the very real challenges Khatami faces in reforming Iran's domestic as well as foreign policies.
Although President Khatami is challenging the conservatives on important issues, the presidency typically has not controlled national security policy, nor critical Iranian institutions like the military, the police, the security and intelligence services and the Revolutionary Guards. These remain the domain of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and it is not clear how far Khatami is able to go in these areas. Yet it is precisely in the national security domain that Iran is pursuing policies of greatest concern to us.
If President Khatami is able to turn his constructive rhetoric into real changes in the areas of concern to us, that would lay the foundation for an appropriate response on our side, including better relations between our two countries. To sustain any effort to improve relations, such changes are necessary; in the meantime, we will continue to focus our energies on countering the threat from Iran in these areas.