U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, made the following opening statement this morning at a Committee hearing titled "Iran and Syria: The Next Steps (Part 1)." Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:
"Today's hearing is part of a broader oversight effort by the Committee to examine U.S. policy options to address the twin threats presented by both Iran and Syria.
"We will continue to be engaged in a number of other activities -- from roundtable conversations with E.U., Middle East and other visiting dignitaries and ambassadors, to meetings with panels of experts on Iran and Syria -- to ensure that we do not take our eye off some of the most pressing threats to U.S. and global security.
"The date of May 24th, 2011 -- a watershed in our efforts to confront the Iranian-Syria axis over their nuclear programs -- passed with little fanfare. On May 24th, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued two damning reports with respect to the nuclear programs of Iran and Syria. The first, with respect to Iran, cited significant increases in the production rate of low enriched uranium. Most concerning, it also cited "current undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of nuclear payload for a missile.' Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms control estimates that as of April 2011, Iran's stockpile of low enriched uranium provides enough material to fuel four nuclear bombs. Additionally, the report detailed a list of seven nuclear activities exclusive to a nuclear weapons program that Iran has refused to explain.
"The report with respect to Syria outlines in detail the evidence it has collected of a suspected covert nuclear reactor building under construction in Syria which was destroyed by Israel in September 2007. Syria has long denied that it was building a covert nuclear reactor, and systematically denied the IAEA access to the site.
"The level of specificity in the descriptions of the activities and the publicizing of information in each report suggests that the IAEA believes its evidence is credible. Thus, the nuclear ambitions of both Tehran and Damascus have been laid bare.
"And while President Obama has said that Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons is "unacceptable,' some in the Administration appear resigned to the eventuality that the regime will build a bomb, and the goal is to delay, rather than force permanent verifiable dismantlement. Iran with a nuclear weapon -- or a nuclear breakout capacity -- would embolden Iran's pursuit of regional domination and could embolden the regime's proxies to develop comparable capabilities. It could also set the Middle East down a cascade of proliferation that is unacceptable to U.S. security, our interests and vital allies such as Israel.
"President Obama stated that if the IAEA determines that Iran is noncompliant, "we will have no choice but to consider additional steps, including potentially additional sanctions, to intensify the pressure on the Iranian regime.' Such steps would have to be immediate, comprehensive and dramatic. They must not continue to give a pass to Russia, China, or to the likes of Total, and must not be based on persuading the so-called "international community' to act collectively -- meaning agreeing to the lowest common denominator while continuing to cultivate ties with the regime in Tehran.
"Despite statements by outgoing Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who told the online publication The Cable that new congressional legislation expanding sanctions on Iran is unnecessary, it is vital that Congress act to close loopholes identified in the current sanctions structure and compel the Executive Branch to fully and unequivocally augment the pressure on Iran, Syria and their enablers.
"Last year, after a long, hard-fought struggle, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act was enacted. Although weaker than some of us had hoped, this law represents a strong step forward, especially through its energy, refined petroleum, and financial sanctions. This Congressionally-driven effort has led some countries, including the EU, Japan, Australia, and South Korea, to finally impose their own, albeit more limited, sanctions on Tehran.
"Since the implementation of the 2003 Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act, my colleagues from both sides of the aisle and I have been calling for the full implementation of the menu of sanctions contained under that Act.
"To address the growing threats and compel the Iranian and Syrian regimes into abandoning their destructive policies, I have worked with the distinguished Ranking Member, Mr. Berman, and Congressman Sherman and Congressman Engel along with other bipartisan colleagues in introducing legislation aimed at expanding and strengthening existing sanctions on Iran and Syria, and ensuring their full implementation and enforcement by the Executive Branch.
"The tools we have must be used to their maximum effectiveness. We must look for new means of compelling both Iran and Syria to stop activities that threaten our security, our interests, and our allies. Our policies towards both Iran and Syria can no longer be bifurcated, but must include an integrated, cohesive strategy with the singular goal of preventing Iran's and Syria's pursuit of nuclear and other non-conventional weapons, the missiles to deliver them, their sponsorship of terrorism, and other activities that threaten Americans, our interests, and our allies.
"Addressing these threats requires tough choices. I look forward to receiving the testimony of our witnesses today and listening to their recommendations of what the United States can do to definitively deny the Iran-Syria axis the wherewithal to continue their dangerous policies."