Today Rep. Howard L. Berman (CA-28), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, began work on the House-Senate conference committee on Iran sanctions legislation. The House of Representatives passed Rep. Berman's version, the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (H.R. 2194) in December, 2009, and the Senate passed its version in March, 2010. Below are Chairman Berman's opening remarks at the first meeting of the conference committee.
Chairman Berman's opening remarks during first meeting of Iran sanctions conference
Verbatim, as delivered
"We meet today for the urgent purpose of reconciling the House and Senate bills that share the goal of imposing tough sanctions intended to persuade Iran to suspend its uranium-enrichment, as demanded by five different UN Security Council resolutions since 2006, and to end all its nuclear-weapons-related programs.
"We all know that the prospect of a nuclear Iran carries profoundly disturbing implications for US interests, for global peace and stability. A nuclear-armed Iran would dominate its neighbors, would spark a regional nuclear-arms race, and would be able to pursue its nefarious aims, including support of terrorists and oppression of its citizens, with near-impunity. Worst of all, it may even use those arms against US friends and allies and, within the decade, may have the capability of staging a nuclear attack against the United States.
"Since this bill was first introduced nearly a year ago, Iran has continued its march toward nuclear-weapons capability. Most experts believe Iran could have a deliverable nuclear-bomb within three to five years. It may already have enough low-enriched uranium to form the basis for one bomb.
"As we meet, our Administration is attempting to complete negotiations on a new UN Security Council resolution that would significantly toughen sanctions on Iran and act as a platform for the EU, and perhaps others as well, to construct new, even stronger national sanction regimes. The Administration's effort at the UN is important. We want to be helpful -- and, I believe simply by pursuing our legislation, we already have been. In recent months many energy companies have announced an end to refined petroleum sales and other forms of participation in Iran's energy sector. I believe the pace of talks at the Security Council has perhaps also quickened because of our legislation, although it remains to be seen when and whether a resolution will emerge.
"We should be supportive of the multilateral approach. A multilateral effort is certainly preferable to a strictly unilateral effort. Yet, time is not our friend, and, as we wait to secure multilateral support, Iran and its spinning centrifuges do not wait. So, although we do not want our bill to undermine the Administration's efforts to achieve a multilateral sanctions regime, we can no longer wait for a Security Council resolution that has been under negotiation for months. That is not a criticism of the Administration, it has made strenuous efforts to achieve a resolution and has given higher priority to Iran than any previous Administration. It is simply a fact of Security Council politics, where it takes at least five -- and sometimes more -- to tango.
"For now, and until we see otherwise, we should proceed as if there will be no UN Security Council resolution. But we certainly could act more flexibly if the Security Council acts urgently and effectively to impose strong sanctions.
"In order to spur its multilateral diplomacy, the Administration has asked us to include in our legislation the possibility of an exemption from sanctions for companies domiciled in so-called "cooperating countries" -- that is, countries that generally cooperate with and contribute to multilateral efforts to isolate Iran economically and politically and to end its nuclear-weapons-related programs. In my view, there is indeed a certain logic to such an exemption, provided it isn't too broad. Whether our bill includes such an exemption -- and the form it should take -- will be one of the crucial questions this Conference will decide.
"I anticipate that the bill we send to the President will be stronger and more comprehensive than either the House or Senate version of the bill currently is. There are certainly measures we want to add to the bill, especially those dealing with Iran's human rights abuses. We should support measures that would sanction Iranian human-rights abusers and would enhance Iranian citizens' access to the internet and other communications services.
"I would also like to broaden our current bills by adding a new category not covered in the Iran Sanctions Act or in the bills before us. Current law authorizes the President to sanction companies that invest in Iran's energy sector. And the bill before us would sanction companies that sell refined petroleum to Iran or help Iran to maintain or enhance its domestic refining capacity through investment or sales of technology, goods, services, or information.
"However, we have not yet considered sanctioning companies that support Iran's energy sector -- beyond its domestic refining capacity -- through sales of technology, goods, services, or information. I would like to plug that gap in our anticipated sanctions regime.
"We should also consider measures to increase Iran's isolation from the international financial sector. Several Iranian financial institutions have been sanctioned over the years because of their connection to money-laundering for purposes related to terrorism and development of weapons of mass destruction. But we now understand that virtually every Iranian financial institution, starting with the Central Bank of Iran, is involved in these types of activities.
"And we should put an end to US government contracts for foreign companies that support Iran's energy sector. The New York Times recently reported that, over the past decade, we have paid out more than $100 billion in U.S. government contracts to companies doing business with Iran. That includes more than $15 billion to companies engaged in activities sanctionable under the Iran Sanctions Act. That must stop.
"And let me address one more critical issue. In the years since the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act was first passed in 1996, there has been only one instance in which the President determined that a sanctionable investment had taken place. That was in 1998, and the purpose of President Clinton's determination was to waive the sanction. Since then, there has never been a determination of sanctionable activity, notwithstanding the fact that recent GAO and CRS reports -- and, for a time, even the Department of Energy website -- have cited at least two dozen investments in Iran's energy sector of sanctionable levels.
"We need to insist, in law, that the Executive Branch implement sanctions, as passed by Congress. Our bill should require the President to investigate all reasonable reports of sanctionable activity, make a determination as to whether the reported activity is sanctionable, and, if it is, to go ahead and either impose sanctions or, if he chooses, waive sanctions.
"I know the Administration officials don't want our bill to require the Executive Branch to investigate each report of sanctionable activity. They especially don't want the bill to require them to make the determination as to whether or not to actually impose sanctions. They want to be authorized to impose sanctions, if they so choose, but they don't want to be required to impose them. They cite a number of legitimate reasons for their position: workload concerns, constitutional concerns, and foreign policy concerns. But it is in this context, however, after the passage of twelve years during which there have been NO determinations of sanctionable investments -- despite the fact that we all know such investments have taken place -- we have our own, I think quite compelling concerns. One of those concerns is Iran's continued progress toward nuclear-weapons capability. And another of those concerns is whether or not the Executive Branch will "faithfully execute the law, as expressed by Congress." Within that context, let me make clear that we would like to work with the Administration to resolve our differences.
"I've cited some of the major issues before us. There are many others as well. As Senator Dodd said, I look forward to your comments, and I look forward to working with all of you to achieve a powerful bill that maximizes our chances of preventing Iran from achieving nuclear-weapons capability. That is our goal.
"On steps forward, I ask that our staffs begin preliminary conversations to work towards developing a consensus document. In terms of particular provisions regarding matters specifically within the jurisdiction of committees of referral, our staffs will be available to hear and discuss possible alternatives in order to address their concerns.
"And I hope that we can complete the process within the next couple weeks. We have our work cut out for us. Let's get started."