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Iran Study Group

Location: Washington, DC

IRAN STUDY GROUP -- (House of Representatives - June 08, 2005)


Mr. ANDREWS. Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity tonight. I want to thank my friend from Illinois for his compliment. It is truly appreciated, and I know it is shared on my side that I very much appreciate, Mr. Speaker, my work with my colleague from Illinois. I also want to point out that he is one of the Members here who simply does not talk about his patriotism but he practices it.

He is active reservist. He serves his country in uniform on a regular basis, as do his brother and sister reservists. I think he honors this institution and this country by his service, and I thank him for it.

I appreciate the work we have done in our Iran Study Group. The emphasis is on the word "study." We think the country faces a truly perilous situation with the prospect of the mullahs who run the Iranian government obtaining a nuclear weapon. We have devoted ourselves to analyzing how this problem came about and to carefully analyzing how we might solve it.

Our intention tonight is to have a discussion of those solutions that would be based on diplomacy, and I look forward to having my friend from Illinois lead that discussion, and I will join it so I can complement his points as to how we can solve this problem.

Mr. KIRK. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Andrews).

When we review the situation in Iran, we see a nation with a proud Persian language and a culture that now is under a religious regime that has a very weak hold on the voters of its nation.

Time and again old revolutionary leaders of Iran have lost elections to reformers, but they keep power through the religious Guardian Council, Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian Intelligence Service. These ruling extremists have kept Iran as a pariah nation, unable to build lasting ties to the West.

While nearly everyone under 40 in Iran favors good relations with the West and even the United States, Iran's current Guardian Council maintains her isolation.

Now, all U.S. Presidents, Republican and Democrat, since 1979 have certified that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism, that Hezbollah would collapse in the Middle East without the direct support of Iran's intelligence service, the MOIS. And under the Guardian Council, Iran took a clear turn towards nuclear weapons despite her status as a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Mr. Speaker, I yield to the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Andrews).

Mr. ANDREWS. Mr. Speaker, I want to explicate the nature of the regime of which he speaks. This Congress and our Presidents of both parties did not choose the terrorists label lightly.

This is a regime which has its antecedent roots in the holding of American diplomats hostage for 444 days, an image which we will not soon forget. It is a regime where people are imprisoned and tortured for dancing at wedding celebrations. It is a regime in which women who express their points of view are brutalized, assaulted and tortured in Iranian prisons. And perhaps the most striking piece of evidence as to the real nature of this regime is found in the run-up to the elections which are going to be held in Iran on the 17th of June, in 9 days.

1,014 people registered to be part of that election, to be on the ballot for this election, and the ruling council that the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Kirk) made reference to under the Iranian system has the right to chose who goes on the ballot and who does not.

I say this again. If you want to run for office, you file your nominating petitions, and then a ruling council decides whether or not you are worthy to be on the ballot. Of the 1,014 persons who filed to be on the ballot on the June 17 election in Iran, six of them were permitted to be on the ballot by the ruling council, six people out of 1,014 people.

This is not a regime that can have a nuclear weapon. We have to start this discussion from the proposition that it is unacceptable for a regime of this dark nature to have a nuclear weapon.

Mr. KIRK. Mr. Speaker, I would agree. Iran had grand ambitions under the Shah who planned to build 29 nuclear reactors. His plans and those of his successors are ironic given Iran's location atop one of the largest reserves of oil that emerged from the ground at less than a cost of $2 a barrel. With the fall of the Shah, Iran's nuclear ambitions were cut back but then revived with the help of Russia. Based at Bushehr, the Russian nuclear reactor project gives Iran a clear path to the production of plutonium despite Russia's assertions otherwise.

Until 2002, we had strong suspicions about Iran, but no clear allegations that she had violated her solemn commitment to the United Nations under the non-proliferation treaty; but then an exile group, the National Council For Resistance of Iran, exposed clear, undeclared nuclear activities, indicating uranium enrichment at that task; and the Arak heavy water production facility gives Iran a clear path towards the refinement of products which would become the center of a nuclear weapon.

This was just not according to the exile group. After 2 years of extensive inspections by the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency, they reported that Iran had undeclared centrifuge atomic vapor, a laser isotope separation, a molecular laser isotope separation and plutonium separation activities, all in direct violation of Iran's formal obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and the safeguards agreement.

I yield to my colleague on these points.

Mr. ANDREWS. Mr. Speaker, I again thank my friend. It is important to note that we have nearly a quarter century of active deception from the Iranian regime on this point.

As recently as 4 years ago, 3 years ago, in international forums, the representatives of this government were actively denying that they were in pursuit of a nuclear weapon. For nearly a quarter century, we were told by the Iranian regime that activities which appear to be nuclear in nature were for a domestic energy program.

Now, one must find it curious that a nation that is sitting on one of the largest supplies of crude oil in the world, that is an exporter to the States, whose main export is crude, would find the need for a nuclear energy program. That alone is a rather curious proposition; but putting that aside, we had a quarter century of deception until, as the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Kirk) says, in 2002 resistance leaders blew the whistle about the facilities at Arak and Natanz.

I want to be very clear, Mr. Speaker, that there has been controversy in this Chamber about the existence of weapons of mass destruction and ideological views coloring that discussion. There is no ideological dispute here. There is factual understanding by the French, by the Germans, by the British, by the EU, by the U.N., by every objective party in this case. It is not in factual dispute that there is a nuclear program going on in Iran.

Since the disclosures that became public in December of 2002, as the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Kirk) just said, we had a 2-year process of inspections under the jurisdiction of the IAEA of the United Nations, and they confirmed the existence of plutonium, or rather of uranium, enrichment facilities. They confirmed the equipment and the infrastructure necessary to make the other parts of a reactor, including a centrifuge, that would lead up to the construction of a nuclear weapon.

So we want to be very clear tonight that what is in controversy is what will happen next with respect to development of this Iranian program. What is in controversy is what we ought to do about it. What is not in controversy is that the Iranians actively pursued a nuclear weapons program and that they actively deceived the rest of the world about that pursuit for a quarter of a century.


Mr. ANDREWS. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding.

This is truly a toxic combination of a dishonest regime that has actively deceived the rest of the world for a quarter century, the most lethal and deadly weapons known to man, and the ability to use those weapons both in a conventional and unconventional sense.

As the gentleman from Illinois' (Mr. Kirk) map shows very clearly, Iran tonight has the ballistic capability, has the ability to fire a missile that could cause nuclear havoc to U.S. troops in Iraq, in Kuwait, could cause the destruction of America's great friend in Israel. This is a real and present danger, but beyond the conventional danger is the asymmetric unconventional danger of the unconventional use of a nuclear weapon in an unconventional way: in a suitcase, in a rental truck, on a container being shipped into a port of the United States.

The risk that we are discussing tonight is not only the risk that one of the missiles that the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Kirk) just described would rain down on U.S. troops in the Middle East or on our friends in Israel or in a friendly Arab state; the risk is that this risk could manifest itself in Times Square or in the Nation's capitol through the use of a nuclear weapon in an unconventional way. A toxic combination of a Jihadist regime, a 25-year record of deception, and the possession of this lethal technology is something we simply cannot countenance.

Now there have been efforts, intense efforts over the last 18 months or so to address this problem. I know that the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Kirk) is going to outline them, and we are going to talk about how we support the intent of those efforts, how we are working through our working group to try to buttress the efforts, but how we believe that our country must be prepared both in the eventuality of the success of the negotiations or the failure of the negotiations in order to protect ourselves.


Mr. ANDREWS. Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for yielding.

I certainly share the view that the Israelis did peace-loving people around the world a huge favor in 1981 when they took out Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor program. The first Gulf War in 1991 and the recent hostilities which endure to today would have looked very different and much worse had Saddam been able to proceed with that program.

It is tempting to exercise the so-called Israeli option this time, to condone an action by the Israelis that would solve this problem. It is tempting, but it is illusory because the nature of this program is literally subterranean. Much of the developmental activity of the Iranian nuclear program is underneath the Earth.

They are not easily penetrated or perhaps not penetrable at all by an air assault. As the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Kirk) has pointed out, in addition to the dubious prospects of success as a military proposition, there would be the unbelievable fallout of probably unifying the Iranian population against us and our Israeli allies and forfeiting what I believe is the best hope for a peaceful solution to this problem which would be voluntary, indigenous change led by progressive young Iranians who want to live in a country where they can speak and worship and vote and live as they choose. Running the risk of offending and alienating that block of forward-looking young Iranians would be a risk I do not believe we should bear.

As the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Kirk) suggests, we need to resist the temptation of saying that the Israelis can once again take care of this problem as they did in 1981, because I do not think the record shows that. What we need to do is devise a robust, effective plan to sanction and leverage the Iranians toward a path of peace, rather than a path of development of nuclear weapons.

There is a sincere attempt led by the British and the Germans and the French to reach such a result. Most recently, that attempt has resulted in an agreement in November of 2004 which calls for the suspension of the Iranian enrichment program by the Iranians, an active inspection program by the United Nations, and then the extension of economic incentives so the Iranian economy may grow and prosper as a result of that proposition. There is hope that that will succeed. I hope it will succeed. I know the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Kirk) does as well.

But the record must also show that since November of 2004 there have been at least three very serious problems reported with respect to compliance with the agreement. According to the IAEA, that is the United Nations arms inspection regime, Iran has limited IAEA access to two secret Iranian military sites, including a large complex at Parchin where suspected nuclear access may be taking place. Only two. The IAEA inspectors visited the site in January of 2005, but Iran has not allowed visits subsequently. So they have already begun to shut down the inspections.

Secondly, Iran is also alleged to have withheld information and conducted maintenance and other work on centrifuge equipment and uranium conversion activities.

So there is centrifuge work continuing even though the official posture of the Iranian government is they have suspended nuclear weapons activities.

Finally, Iran is also beginning construction of a heavy water research reactor which could well be suited to plutonium production, and I would note for the record that discussions between our European allies and the Iranians do not cover plutonium development of a weapon, they cover uranium enrichment. There are two major pathways to achieve a nuclear weapon. One is based on uranium, and one is based on plutonium. Even in its best day, this agreement is not addressing plutonium.

So to answer the gentleman's question directly, what should we do, we should anticipate what would happen if this agreement does not succeed, and we would define success as the abandonment of the nuclear weapons development program by the Iranians followed by a transparent inspection regime so the rest of the world could verify that it has not yet been restarted.

In order to do that, the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Kirk) and I believe, and I think Democrats and Republicans can come together and believe, that a robust and effective program of economic sanctions is what we need. I know the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Kirk) has worked on one particular idea which I think has very strong merit and ask the gentleman to outline that.


Mr. ANDREWS. Mr. Speaker, gasoline is the Achilles' heel of the Iranian autocrats. They have presided over such a dysfunctional country that they are in a situation where they sell crude oil in huge amounts to the rest of the world but import gasoline. Think about that. A country that is literally awash in the basic stuff that gasoline is made of cannot produce its own gasoline. Estimates go as high as 40 percent of the gasoline consumed by Iranian consumers is imported from other countries.

Now another measure of the importance of what the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Kirk) is saying is this. Today when a citizen of Tehran fills up his or her tank of gas, they pay 40 cents a gallon. I wish I could go home and tell my constituents they were going to fill up their gas tanks for 40 cents a gallon. Obviously, it costs a lot more to produce gasoline than 40 cents a gallon in Iran, but this is such a sensitive issue for the population of the country that the Iranian parliament has voted, and as a matter of fact in January of this year the Iranian parliament voted to freeze domestic prices for gasoline and other fuels at 2003 levels.

Why did they do that? They did it because it would be so disruptive to the society and the economy to have a price shock that would reflect the true cost of a gallon of gasoline. If such a disruption occurred, it would shake the control, the iron grip the autocrats have over this country. They have identified their own weakness by freezing the price of domestic gasoline.

What the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Kirk) is suggesting is a surgical sanction. We are going to be I believe going to the U.N. Security Council in this calendar year. That is my prediction. The gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Kirk) may not share that, but as I see things unfolding. On June 6, Monday, the Iranians once again said they would voluntarily suspend their uranium enrichment program until more talks ensued with the Europeans.

The election I made reference to earlier, the one where 98 percent of the candidates or more were expelled from the ballot, if we can call that an election, will take place on June 17. The talks will resume at some point in Geneva shortly after June 17.

I truly believe, given the track record we have seen thus far, that a referral to the U.N. Security Council is very near. We have seen after a dozen years of frustration with Iraqi sanctions that the U.N. Security Council taking a vote does not do a lot in and of itself. They took a lot of votes against Saddam Hussein over the course of a dozen years, but people still suffered and died and nothing really changed.

The key question if, and I think when, we reach the point of the U.N. Security Council, is what are we going to be asking for? Simply passing a resolution that condemns the Iranians for deceiving the rest of the world, violating their responsibilities under the nonproliferation treaty and continuing with the development of a nuclear weapon is not going to do it. It is going to take a meaningful sanction.

The gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Kirk) has laid out a very meaningful sanction. He has wisely avoided the stick-your-head-in-the-sand approach of saying, if they have a few weapons, so what, they are a small country. I fear we would find out the "so what" would be very soon.

He has also avoided the risk to rush headlong into a military solution to this problem. Military action should never be taken off the table, never, but they should never be the first instinct or the first option. I believe what the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Kirk) has outlined makes eminent sense, given the internal politics of Iran.

If Iran could only consume the gasoline that she produces domestically, one of two things would happen and they are both very disruptive to the regime. The first is that they would have to heavily subsidize the production that they already have internally; they would have to ration what people can use to hold the price down; and they would have to give up something else. Either food prices would rise, housing prices would rise, other energy prices would rise and the standard of living of the average Iranian would drop rather precipitously.

The other option would be to let the price of gasoline rise to meet the market curve of supply and demand, which I believe would cause chaos in that society. I believe that the hundreds and thousands of young Iranians who have taken to the streets in recent years want a change, and if the grip that their rulers have is weakened by the plan that has been set forth here, so be it.

The gentleman from Illinois said a few minutes ago about optimism, and he talked about Ukraine and about Libya and other countries giving up nuclear weapons. Another source of optimism I would daresay is this: If one went back and researched speeches made on this floor in 1985, if Members had stood and said, you know, within 6 years, millions of people in the Warsaw Pact countries are going to rise up and make changes within their countries without a violent revolution by simply demanding that change occur, they would have been hooted off this floor as being hopelessly naive and unaware of the way things really were.

I am not suggesting that Iran is like the Eastern European countries. I know the religion is different, the history is different, the culture is different. But I truly believe that human nature is not different. And I think that our 25-year-old students that we hear from in Tehran want the same thing that our constituents want and the same thing those brave Poles and Czechs and Germans and Ukrainians and Russians wanted, which is to live freely. And if we send a message that we will stand by them, I believe that they will be emboldened to try. And I think that the gentleman from Illinois' idea is not only an effective sanction but it is that powerful message.


Mr. ANDREWS. I thank my friend. It is characteristic of the gentleman from Illinois that he is a creative thinker and someone who wants to problem-solve rather than score political points. Working with him has been a terrific experience and one that I look forward to continuing on this and other ventures.

I think there is broad consensus in this House and in this country between the two parties on two points. The first is that there is a real and present threat to our survival in the form of Islamic jihadist terror. September 11 is the most dramatic example, but there are others. I think there are scarcely any people who believe that is not a very serious threat.

Mr. KIRK. Did you lose constituents on September 11?

Mr. ANDREWS. Of course I did. And lost people I knew personally. I think virtually everyone in New Jersey did in some way.

The second point of consensus is that America should always first use its economic and diplomatic and spiritual creativity to work with our friends and solve problems. No one here wants to rush to military conflict. And when we do get in military conflict, that is when it can be divisive and, frankly, should be, that we should have vigorous debate. What I like so much about the gentleman from Illinois' idea is that it fully employs the diplomatic and economic creativity of our country, and I think it does rise to a spiritual level of what our relationship will be with our friends in Iran for years to come. This is a surgical sanction that uses the might of our private sector.

The gentleman from Illinois made reference to the insurance sector. It is very true that the insurance industry is very unlikely to insure vessels that would run afoul of a quarantine of gasoline. And if the insurers will not insure the cargo, the cargo does not flow. If the cargo does not flow, you do not need a naval quarantine. Frankly, the economics work in that advantage.

Secondly, this is a recognition that we want to share in the success of our European friends. They deserve credit for bringing us to a point where the Iranians are at least taking the position that they want to suspend this program. They deserve credit for saying they are ready to go to the Security Council, our British and French and German friends, should that need become evident. So this is an extension of a friendship with our allies in Western Europe, and it is a way to build on the success that they have had without resorting to armed conflict but by using the creative, economic and diplomatic tools at our disposal.

Finally, I would say spiritually, I do not doubt that someday, my daughters are 12 and 10, Jackie and Josie, and I think someday they will go to Iran. I want them to go to Iran as exchange students or as performers or as athletes or as people to visit friends that they have met in college or graduate school. I do not want them to go there as soldiers. We cannot ignore the reality that a jihadist despotic regime is trying to get a nuclear weapon, and we cannot ignore the high probability they will use it in ways that will terrify the world. But understanding of that threat does not imply a rush to military action. Instead, it implies a thoughtful, constructive plan such as the gentleman from Illinois has laid out.

It is our intention to introduce a resolution that lays out the ideas behind the gentleman from Illinois' discussion tonight. We want to persuade both Democratic and Republican colleagues and the administration to be supportive of this idea. We want to show that it is a reflection of our partnership with our Western European allies. And we want it to succeed. It is my hope that it is never necessary, that the mere fact that this is being discussed will embolden progressive, freedom-loving Iranians to take matters into their own hands. But I think it is going to take more than that. And I think that the idea the gentleman from Illinois has sketched out is one that will work. It is pragmatic, it represents our best tools and values, and I look forward to supporting it.


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