I thank the Chairman for scheduling this important hearing and join him in welcoming our distinguished witnesses. I hope that their insights will give us a better understanding of the impact of U.S. policy and the efforts of the international community in confronting the Iranian threat.
I said at our last hearing in December that Iran was a direct threat to U.S. national security, the security of our close ally Israel, and other U.S. interests in the region. That situation persists today. Iranian intransigence toward fulfilling its international obligations with respect to its nuclear program continues. Iran's parliamentary elections on March 2 were boycotted by opposition candidates and reformers, and the election results appear to embolden Iran's hardliners.
Even as its isolation grows, little has changed in Iran. Democratic movements across the Middle East and North Africa gave voice to the demands for democratic pluralism and respect for the rule of law and human rights, but the Iranian regime continues its brutal repression of journalists, political activists, students, and trade unionists. Moreover, it continues its persecution of Christian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who faces execution because of his religious beliefs. Iran's support for the regime in Syria, where the death toll has surpassed 8,000 people, has enabled President Assad to pursue his deadly campaign of attacks against the Syrian people.
Outside Iran, the political posture of many of Iran's neighbors has changed and with it, perhaps, their inclination to respond to Iran's acquisition of nuclear capability by seeking their own weapons. Four years ago, I commissioned a staff report entitled "Chain Reaction: Avoiding a Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East," to assess the risks of nuclear proliferation in this volatile region should Iran get a nuclear weapon. It reviewed the history of nuclear proliferation and focused on three countries--Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. That report expressed grave concerns about a Middle East arms race, and I will be interested to learn our witnesses' views on this proliferation dynamic.
In order to confront the threat posed by Iran to our national security, our interests in the region, and the security of Israel, I continue to believe that our challenge lies in the achievement of an international consensus that presents the Iranian regime with the plain choice between pursuing its nuclear weapons program or preserving the economic viability of the country. In December, the Senate unanimously passed an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act sanctioning those institutions doing business with the Central Bank of Iran, which lies at the center of Iran's efforts to circumvent multilateral sanctions.
I am hopeful about reports suggesting that these and other sanctions are beginning to bite. I am also encouraged by the news that certain European Union countries and Japan have significantly reduced their crude oil imports from Iran, and that the United States and its international partners are working with other importing countries to further cut off the Iranian regime's lifeblood derived from its oil revenues.
I have repeatedly urged the Obama administration to lessen our own need for foreign oil imports by permitting construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada. Although the United States imports no oil directly from Iran, the more non-Iranian oil on the global oil market, the more there is for others seeking alternatives to Iran's crude. The Energy Department says Keystone would help lower gas prices for Americans, and it would give the United States more flexibility in a crisis.
All options in the Iranian crisis remain on the table. The fundamental question for U.S. policymakers is whether a sanctions regime can be imposed that will verifiably stop Iran's nuclear weapons program. Can we say that sanctions are having the intended effect of inducing change in Iran's behavior? I'll be interested to hear our witnesses address this question, because it is, I believe, the fundamental issue. If a cornerstone of our current policy is sanctions, it seems to me incumbent to ask: Are they working and are they being used to good effect?
Thank-you Mr. Chairman.