I want to take this opportunity to update you on upcoming Congressional action relevant to the Middle East. With Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, a new Palestinian leadership and continued efforts by Iran to develop nuclear weapons, the coming months will be eventful.
In more than eight years on the House International Relations Committee, I have strongly supported our friendship with Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East and our true ally in our efforts to combat terrorism. As you may know, I am the "ranking" Democrat on the Subcommittee on Terrorism and Nonproliferation, and have focused on preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and materials.
Unfortunately, successive Presidential administrations have failed to prevent the most dangerous countries - Iran and North Korea - from developing nuclear weapons. Iran's progress is particularly troubling since it lies in a volatile region well within distance of a state it has vowed to destroy, Israel.
Supporting Assistance for Israel
In 1999, then Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu proposed a formula for regular aid from the US to Israel during each year of the coming decade. I am pleased to report that in 2005 Israel will receive the full amount requested under the Netanyahu formula. More specifically, Israel will receive $360 million in economic assistance and $2.22 billion in security aid.
In addition, Israel will receive $50 million to assist with the resettlement of Jewish refugees from countries where they face hostile conditions. With the recent rise of anti-Semitism around the globe, this assistance is even more critical.
Congress is working on the legislation that will fund foreign aid for 2006. The President has requested $2.28 billion in military grants, $240 million in economic grants, and $40 million in refugee assistance for Israel for 2006. Also, the Defense Department has requested that Congress provide $78 million for the Arrow interceptor, a cooperative project to defend US and Israeli troops from missile attack. I strongly supported the inclusion of aid funding to Israel in the Foreign Aid bill. This bill has passed and is currently waiting a Conference Committee which will resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.
Working to Prevent Iran from "Going Nuclear"
The current regime in Iran has conducted a covert program to obtain the means to produce the material needed for bombs - weapons grade plutonium and uranium. With enough of either, only a few pounds, the Iranians will be able to construct a nuclear device. It was not the CIA, but rather an Iranian opposition group, which brought to light the extent of Iran's program in 2002.
While Iran's nuclear program has come a long way, and Tehran is indeed dangerously close to having the capability to produce weapons grade material, there is still time to put an end to Iran's program - without having to resort to the use of force. Unfortunately, the US has not taken any steps to further punish or isolate the government of Iran.
The Bush Administration, while refusing to talk with the Iranian government about its nuclear program, decided to drop its opposition to Iran's application to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) and has agreed to sell aircraft parts to help keep the Iranian fleet of aging Boeing planes in the air. Becoming a member of the WTO will provide Iran important trade benefits and is critical for Iran's economy. President Bush made a major concession to the Iranians without getting anything in return.
Instead we need to apply maximum economic pressure to Iran until it abandons its nuclear weapons program and stops funding terrorism. We should offer such benefits as Boeing parts, WTO membership and access to US markets only after the Iranian government changes its policies.
In order to develop a strong and coherent policy towards Iran, in 2003 I introduced The Iran Freedom and Democracy Support Act, which would have reimposed a total embargo against Iran until that government changes its policies. It would have also allowed the President to reduce contributions to those institutions (like the World Bank) which provide support to the Iranian regime.
I will soon reintroduce this legislation with several additional provisions. One will prevent the subsidiaries of US companies, like Halliburton and ConocoPhillips, from operating in Iran. You may be surprised to learn that, while US companies are prohibited from doing business in Iran, their foreign-incorporated subsidiaries are not. A second provision will strengthen the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, which provides for sanctions against foreign oil companies that provide critically needed investment in Iran's energy sector. The third provision will require the U.S. to do everything possible to keep Iran out of the WTO, until it changes its policies.
Perhaps most important, however, is the need for the United States to convince European and wealthy Asian countries to join us in tougher policies if Iran will not abandon its nuclear program. It is only by making a nuclear program more prohibitively expensive that we can convince the Iranians to give up their quest for the bomb.
Legislation to Enhance US-Israel Energy Research Cooperation
The United States cannot continue to rely on foreign oil as its principle source of fuel. We see a warning of things to come right now, as gas prices soar to almost three dollars per gallon in California due in large part to the artificial scarcity created by the oil-producing countries and their OPEC cartel.
We provide little funding for research into alternative energy sources, and actually have had a number of policies in place to encourage even greater consumption of foreign oil. For instance, only last year did we finally repeal tax breaks applicable only to the purchase of the largest SUVs (only those over 6000 pounds). I have supported increased funding for research into alternative energy. I also introduced successful legislation to provide tax incentives for the purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles (such as hybrids).
In order to increase international cooperation in the area of energy development, last year I introduced legislation -- the United States-Israel Energy Cooperation Act -- to provide a grant program at the Department of Energy to support joint US and Israeli research and business ventures to develop more efficient use of energy and alternative sources of energy. This year, I was joined by Republican John Shadegg (R-AZ) in introducing this legislation.