Representative Howard Berman Supports the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act

December 15, 2009

Washington, DC - Howard L. Berman (D-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today started floor debate on the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act by urging the House to act quickly to address an increasingly pressing global security threat.

"The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is the most serious and urgent strategic challenge faced by the United States, and we must use all of the diplomatic means at our disposal - including tougher sanctions - to prevent that from becoming a reality," Berman noted.

The legislation, H.R. 2194, sanctions foreign companies that sell refined petroleum to Iran, or help Iran with its own domestic refining capacity, by depriving those companies of access to the US market. Berman co-authored the measure, which has 343 co-sponsors.

"With each passing day, the situation becomes more urgent as Iran takes additional steps to develop its nuclear weapons capability," Berman said. "By many estimates, it would have that capability by sometime next year, and even the predictions that they could not be ready to deliver a bomb within in five years have to be re-evaluated on a shorter time frame based on recent revelations about Iran's nuclear program."

When he brought the legislation to the Foreign Affairs Committee for consideration in October, Berman noted that he would prefer to see other diplomatic measures succeed - including engagement by the Obama administration and, if needed, multilateral sanctions -- rather than have the United States impose sanctions unilaterally.

"Iran has had ample time to respond positively to President Obama's generous engagement offer," he noted today. "Regrettably, the response has been only one of contempt. It is time for this body to act."

The entire text of Chairman Berman's remarks follows:

Verbatim, as delivered

Mr. Speaker, this bill has one overriding goal: to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability. The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is the most serious and urgent strategic challenge faced by the United States, and we must use all of the diplomatic means at our disposal - including tougher sanctions - to prevent that from becoming a reality.

A nuclear-armed Iran would spread its influence by intimidating its neighbors; it would, with near impunity, continue to support terrorists and destabilize the Middle East; it would spark an arms race in the region that would tear the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to shreds; and, most frightening of all, it could, in light of Iran's repeated threats to wipe another nation off the map, result in the actual use of nuclear weapons.

When one considers the regime's ideological nature, the fact that it sent thousands of children to their deaths in the Iran-Iraq war, and its current disregard for the human rights of its own citizens, it is clear that the Iranian regime is anything but a rational actor. And we certainly cannot take the chance that a nuclear Iran would behave responsibly.

With each passing day, the situation becomes more urgent as Iran takes additional steps to develop its nuclear weapons capability. By many estimates, it would have that capability by sometime next year, and even the predictions that they could not be ready to deliver a bomb within in five years have to be re-evaluated on a shorter time frame based on recent revelations about Iran's nuclear program.

In September, Iran's efforts to construct a new, secret uranium enrichment facility were exposed to the world. And what was Tehran's response when the international community rightly condemned it for that action? Declare that it will build ten more!

The Iranian nuclear issue could have been resolved without further sanctions. President Obama has offered Iran an outstretched hand, but regrettably, Iran has not unclenched its fist. The regime has refused to endorse even a confidence-building measure - agreed to by its negotiators in Geneva -- that would have seen Iran ship most of its low-enriched uranium abroad to be further enriched for use in Iran's civilian nuclear medical research reactor. That deal would have bought everyone significant time, delaying Iran's nuclear-arms clock for up to a year as negotiators dealt with the heart of the issue: Iranian compliance with the UN Security Council requirement that it suspend its enrichment program altogether. By rejecting the deal, Iran retains its full stock of low-enriched uranium, enough to serve as the basis for one nuclear bomb. And it forces the world to respond urgently.

The bill before us today is an important part of that response. It would take advantage of Iran's considerable dependency on refined-petroleum imports. It would sanction foreign companies that sell refined petroleum to Iran, or help Iran with its own domestic refining capacity, by depriving those companies of access to the US market. And in so doing, we are asking no more of foreign companies than we currently demand of American firms.

I believe that passage and implementation of this act would have a powerful effect on the Iranian economy. And I believe it would force unpalatable budgetary choices on the Iranian regime, vastly increasing the domestic political cost of pursuing its nuclear program.

That said, I want to reiterate that my overriding goal in moving forward with this legislation is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability. As we move toward a likely conference with the Senate - most likely early next year - and as the Administration continues its efforts to pursue stronger multilateral sanctions, I am open to making adjustments to the bill that would make it as effective as possible in meeting that objective, including providing incentives to other nations to join us in supporting a strong multilateral sanctions regime. One possibility would be to provide an exemption for companies whose host nations are already enforcing robust sanctions in their national law.

But for now, it is sufficient to say that Iran has had ample time to respond positively to President Obama's generous engagement offer. Regrettably, the response has been only one of contempt. It is time for this body to act.