US Congress: HCFA Subcommittee Chairman Sherman on the Iranian nuclear crisis - 3-15-07


A Congressman from California, and
Chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade,
House Committee on Foreign Affairs

March 15, 2007

In mid-2002 an Iranian opposition group held a press conference revealing the existence of a covert effort to produce enriched uranium, including the now infamous Natanz Pilot Enrichment Plant and the planned industrial-scale facility for 50,000 centrifuges to be built underground at that site. Subsequent to these revelations we learned many more details about a concerted Iranian nuclear program that had gone unreported for nearly two decades.

Iran had no operational nuclear power plants at that time. Nuclear fuel is relatively cheap and readily available from international suppliers. The Russians, who were actually building the only Iranian nuclear power plant under construction, would surely supply the fuel needed for that and future plants.

The effort to enrich uranium, in the words of one expert, made about as much economic sense as building a slaughterhouse because you will one day want a sandwich. Even if you buy the argument that oil and gas-rich Iran needs nuclear power, the only explanation for enrichment of uranium is a desire to develop the means to construct the most awesome weapons known to man.

The number one state sponsor of terrorism is trying to gain nuclear weapons. In September of 2005, we were able to achieve the referral of Iran to the U.N. Security Council, finally. It took more than three years just to get the Iranians in the dock in the Security Council. And we celebrated that.

Just over one year later, in December of 2006, nearly four and one half years after the Iranians were caught red-handed with a covert program to develop nuclear weapons, the world finally took the basic step of cutting off nuclear-relevant commerce with Iran. That is what our State Department has achieved - nothing more, nothing less.

Given another four years, we may finally get the ban on international travel by regime officials that has been discussed at the Security Council. Amadinejad will not be allowed to visit Disneyland. A follow-on round of sanctions will hopefully go so far as to ban him from Magic Mountain, too.

You will hear testimony from one of the most respected nuclear experts today. He is not a man known, I believe, for making rash predictions. Iran is currently in the process of installing a 3,000-centrifuge module at Natanz. However unrealistic it is for them to reach their own May 2007 deadline to bring this module into operation, our witness believes that Iran could need only a year or two to bring the module on-line with a capability of producing HEU. Once that is accomplished, if they choose to do so, the Iranians could have enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb in ½-to-one year's time.

Of course, Iran will not stop at 3,000 centrifuges. It will continue to build more and install more.

There are two clocks running down. One is the countdown to the Iranian bomb, or more accurately, the countdown to Iran being able to enrich uranium at a scale that will allow Tehran to go nuclear in a matter of months. That clock is moving, and the time is running out. Suffice it to say that predictions for Iran "going nuclear" only after several years, or even a decade, are overly optimistic. We probably have precious little time to convince the Iranians to abandon a nuclear weapons program.

The other clock is at the Security Council, where the lowest common denominator will prevail. Progress there is glacial, and, notwithstanding the continued Iranian defiance, we will be lucky to get much of anything soon. Anything meaningful seems impossible in the current round of sanctions discussions.

I am afraid the first clock will run before the last unless some very radical changes are made now. Iran must be given a very stark choice - maximum carrots on one hand, and maximum sticks on the other. We will need a program of tough sanctions to go along with inducements, if we are to succeed in convincing Iran to abandon its drive for nuclear weapons. In order to achieve these, we must act now and make several changes to our policies.

The first is to re-order our relations with Russia and China. These countries are the key for a multilateral approach at the Security Council. We will have to compromise on a number of lesser objectives in order to achieve greater cooperation from Russia and China.

With Russia, our concerns over such issues as Moscow's "near abroad" policy, over energy routes, over missile defense, will have to be subordinated to the need for Russian cooperation on Iran. The Chinese need to understand that our trade relationship with them is not sacrosanct, and that they will suffer if Chinese economic relations with Iran flourish while Tehran thumbs its nose at the world.

Next, we need to adopt tougher unilateral sanctions, and adopt policies that will encourage other countries to curtail their business relationship with Iran until Tehran has given up trying to develop nuclear weapons. I am a proud cosponsor of H.R. 1400, the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act.

This legislation would amend the Iran Sanctions Act by removing the Presidential waiver on sanctions against foreign firms that help develop Iran's energy sector. The legislation will hopefully make it impossible for the Administration to ignore the statute any longer. This legislation would also ban all imports from Iran, and it would severely restrict our exports to Iran.

H.R. 1400 would prevent the foreign subsidiaries of US corporations from doing business in Iran. U.S. subsidiaries of foreign oil companies that invest in Iran's oil sector would not receive U.S. tax benefits for oil and gas exploration. The bill would prevent nuclear cooperation between the United States and any country that provides nuclear assistance to Iran. H.R.1400 would withhold funds from the World Bank in proportion to any amounts provided to Iran.

Soon, I will join with Congressman Barney Frank in introducing legislation that will further press the Iranian regime economically. Hundreds of foreign corporations do business with Iran, several in the strategic energy sector. It is time that American investors in these firms were made aware of these activities. The legislation will require that the government "name and shame" these firms, that pension and mutual fund managers disclose to their investors the firms in their portfolio doing business in Iran, and require that the federal TSP program divest from such companies. It will ensure that fiduciaries who divest from these companies can never be accused of breaching their duties to beneficiaries.

One of our witnesses today, Mathew Levitt, just finished a stint at the Treasury Department. He will tell us about the successes that Treasury has enjoyed in targeting the financial sector to further isolate Iran. I commend him for his work there and look forward to hearing his testimony. I will add that our efforts on the financial front have to be redoubled and complimented with legislative efforts like those I just described if we are to be successful.

Finally, I want to address the arguments of those who believe that we should learn to live with a nuclear Iran, and that we need not fear it. Those that say that a nuclear Iran can be contained; that it can be engaged; that Tehran is rational and wants only deterrence from its nuclear program.

A nuclear Iran will be a disaster not only for American security, but for the nuclear nonproliferation regime, which already teeters on the edge.

An atomic Iran will require us to go eyeball-to-eyeball with a nuclear-armed adversary during every crisis in the Middle East. And those will become more frequent, because Iran may start them, believing it has a false impunity through its possession of the bomb. Iran may appear to act rationally, but it has a messianic streak as well. What it may do on the way out, should the regime falter, is totally unpredictable. The Islamic Republic may some day fall, and it could try to go out with a bang.

We can prevent this. If we act now.