Remarks by U.S. Representative Howard Berman on Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act

October 28, 2009

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Military

In marking up H.R. 2194, I have one transcendent goal in mind: To maximize the chances that Iran, the leading state sponsor of terrorism, will be prevented from acquiring the capacity to produce nuclear arms. That capacity would pose perhaps the most serious strategic threat to our nation.


Why? Four reasons:

First, a nuclear-armed Iran would be able to bully its neighbors and dominate its region, and would be much less susceptible to pressure from the international community.

Secondly, its terrorist protégés, like Hezbollah and Hamas, would be emboldened.

Third, it would likely spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that would lead to the collapse of the global nuclear nonproliferation regime.

And finally and very importantly, we could never be sure that it wouldn't share its nuclear know-how with others, including terrorists, or possibly even use nuclear weapons against Israel or other U.S. allies in the region.

This legislation seeks to target Iran's ongoing dependence on refined petroleum imports. It is not a magic bullet, but it will - at least -- force the Iranians to think twice about continuing to flout the will of the international community.

Unlike previous Iran sanctions legislation, which has been ignored by every administration, this bill requires the administration to report to Congress all activities that would trigger sanctions.

330 Members of the House, including the overwhelming majority of this Committee, are co-sponsors of this bill.

When I introduced H.R. 2194 six months ago, I said that I did not want to mark it up right away so that diplomacy could be given a chance to succeed. And I still do.

In recent weeks, there has been a potential development on the diplomatic front, as the U.S., its partners and Iran have discussed the prospect that Iran would ship 75% of its existing stockpile of low-enriched uranium outside the country to be further enriched for use in making medical isotopes. If this deal is realized, as agreed to in principle, and not with significant modifications -- and assuming that Iran has no covert stockpile of low-enriched uranium - we will have pushed back Iran's nuclear clock perhaps nine months to a year.

In marking up the bill today, we must recognize that whatever the progress on that recent arrangement, it does not address the international community's central concern: suspension of Iran's uranium enrichment program.

Iran is still refusing to suspend enrichment, as demanded in four separate United Nations Security Council resolutions, and has thus far not even committed to engage on that core issue in the recent round of talks. In fact, as we now know, Iran has been seeking to covertly expand its uranium enrichment program.

The Iranian government should know that the U.S. Congress remains intently focused on this issue, and that there will be severe consequences down the road should it refuse to suspend its nuclear program. That is why, after six months of waiting, it is time to begin moving this bill through the legislative process.

I am not giving up on the possibility that diplomacy will succeed in bringing about a suspension of Iran's uranium enrichment program.

But if diplomacy does not produce the desired results within a very short period of time, there should be a robust sanctions regime imposed by the UN Security Council - or, failing that, by a coalition of economically powerful, like-minded states that, one hopes, would include the United States, the EU nations, Japan and several of the key oil-producing Arab states.

Only when we judge that these other options will not succeed in a timely manner should we turn to additional unilateral and extraterritorial sanctions such as those included in H.R. 2194.

As I said in my statement two weeks ago announcing this markup, by reporting out the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, this Committee will take the first key step to ensure that President Obama is empowered with the full range of tools he needs to address the looming nuclear threat from Iran, even as he pursues diplomacy and, if necessary, the multilateral sanctions track. Given the length of time it ordinarily takes the House and Senate to move a significant piece of legislation to the President's desk, it is important that we initiate this process today.

All of us are aware that if the provisions of this bill are ever implemented, they would likely have a significant impact on the Iranian economy, including quite possibly on average Iranians. While that is a distasteful prospect, the urgency of dealing with the Iranian nuclear project -- and the immense danger that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to tens, if not hundreds, of million people who will fall within the range of its missiles - compels us to go forward with this legislation. Should its implementation prove necessary, it would be our hope that the Iranian regime would come to its senses and suspend its enrichment program at the earliest possible time.

Iranians should understand that Americans, while distressed by the actions of the Iranian regime, have feelings of real friendship for the Iranian people themselves, and we believe most Iranians reciprocate those feelings. Many of us regret that developments in recent decades have created impediments to our mutual friendship.

We look forward to a day when US-Iranian friendship can blossom anew, when a government in Tehran is willing to restore Tehran to membership in good standing among the community of nations. For Iran, the first step down that path is the complete abandonment of it nuclear weapons program.

We know that sanctions can work. We have seen them work, for example, in the cases of South Africa and Zimbabwe, when it was known as Rhodesia. But they usually take time. Given the advanced state even of the overt Iranian nuclear program; given Iran's achievements in missile development; and given persistent reports that Iran has made considerable progress on nuclear-weapon design, we have very little time to lose. Should diplomacy fail, we must be prepared.

I urge all Members of the Committee to support this bill.