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Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

COMPREHENSIVE IRAN SANCTIONS, ACCOUNTABILITY, AND DIVESTMENT ACT OF 2008 -- (House of Representatives - September 26, 2008)


Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Speaker, I would like to yield myself such time as I might consume.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of this measure, but with great reservations that this weak legislation will send a message to our enemies of a weakened U.S. position on the issue of Iran.

The Iranian threat to the United States, to our allies and to our interests could not be more apparent. Only last week the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency warned that Iran is probably carrying out secret nuclear activities. Then last Saturday the lead inspector for the Middle East shared with member nations of the IAEA extensive documentation of an Iranian effort to reconfigure the Shahab-3 long-range missile to carry a nuclear warhead. The range of these missiles reach Israel and most of the Middle East.

And this is a regime whose current leader, Ahmadinejad, has consistently called for the destruction of the Jewish State of Israel.

On October 26, 2005, at the World Without Zionism Conference in Tehran, the Iranian leader called for Israel to be ``wiped off the map,'' described Israel as ``a disgraceful blot on the face of the Islamic world'' and declared that ``anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury.'' Then on December 12, 2006, he addressed a conference in Tehran questioning the historical veracity of the Holocaust and said that Israel, again, would ``soon be wiped out.''

On Israel's 60th birthday, Ahmadinejad gave a speech in which, according to the official Iranian news agency, he stated that Israel was ``on its way to total destruction.''

In a public address which aired on the Iranian news channel on June 2 of this year, Ahmadinejad again called this ``worm of corruption'' in reference to Israel, to be wiped off. He further stated that while ``some say the ideal of Greater Israel has expired, I say the idea of lesser Israel has expired too.'' And earlier this week at the United Nations, he continued to invoke anti-Israel and anti-Semitic canards when he stated ``the dignity, integrity and rights of the European and American people are being played with by a small but deceitful number of people call Zionists. These nations are spending their dignity and resources on the crimes and the occupations and the threats of the Zionist network against their will.''

But the threat is not just to our friend Israel. Iran is currently working on even longer-range missiles directly threatening critical U.S. interests. The importance and the urgency of strengthened sanctions was underlined just a few days ago, Mr. Speaker, when the European Union warned that Iran was approaching a nuclear weapons capability. The significance stems from the fact that the European Union has long insisted that the West and other countries focus their efforts on diplomacy to persuade Iran to suspend its nuclear program.

This is an acknowledgment that a strategy based on holding out an olive branch and engaging directly with the Iranian regime, while promising trade agreements and other benefits, has not worked and that more concrete economic pressure is needed to compel a change in regimes' behavior. Thus the evidence before us makes it clear that we must act quickly to impose the greatest pressure possible on the regime and its enablers.

Unfortunately, this bill does not do quite that, Mr. Speaker. My colleagues, you all know where I stand on Iran. Last Congress I authored the Iran Freedom Support Act which contained very tough and quite focused sanctions on the regime in Tehran. Our beloved late former chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Lantos, was the lead Democrat cosponsor, and the bill enjoyed the support of our current chairman, HOWARD BERMAN, my good friend, and 360 Members of the House.

The Iran Freedom Support Act was enacted into law 2 years ago almost to the day on September 30. Then when Chairman Lantos approached me last year and asked that I serve as the lead Republican cosponsor of H.R. 1400, the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007, I immediately agreed because H.R. 1400 truly does strengthen U.S. law and does tighten the economic noose around the regime's elites in Iran.

H.R. 1400 passed the House a year ago yesterday, September 25, 2007, by a vote of 397 in favor and only 16 against. Yet it has been stalled in the Senate all this time. Then we have Senate bill 970 which currently has the support of 73 Senators. However, action on these stronger bills was not to be. Instead, we have a bill which refers to certain sanctions already in place, and they call them ``new'' sanctions, and then refers to a handful of other important ones while providing a meager ``national interest waiver.''

What does this mean in practice, Mr. Speaker? The next President doesn't have to worry about actually implementing or applying these sanctions, as a ``national interest waiver'' has been easily justified by consecutive administrations to avoid implementing U.S. laws concerning state sponsors of terrorism, like Iran.

So rather than strengthening the sanctions structure, rather than limiting the President's flexibility, as we did 2 years ago in the Iran Freedom Support Act on proliferation-related sanctions by removing the waiver and on the Iran Sanctions Act by raising the threshold to ``vital to the national security interests of the United States,'' the bill before us provides the weakest possible threshold.

I do not fault my good friend, Chairman Berman. I commend the chairman for his efforts. He is in a difficult situation, and this is as strong a bill as some of his colleagues will allow the House or the Senate to act on.

This bill is like one of the weak Iran resolutions that the United Nations Security Council keeps passing that allows Russia and China and others to go along with because they do nothing. In fact, just today, the U.N. Security Council moved a measure that contained no new sanctions but said that other Security Council resolutions on Iran are legally binding and must be carried out. That is almost exactly what the bill before us is going to do on the issue of sanctions.

Again, I do not understand why, at a time when the Iranian regime is crystal clear in accelerating its efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon, that we are not considering the Lantos Iran Counter-Proliferation Act or Senate bill 970.

Notably, this body has not even considered the Ackerman-Pence resolution, which has 275 cosponsors and is a strong, unequivocal message to the regime.

Yet, Mr. Speaker, despite the many deficiencies of this bill, I want to thank my friend, Chairman Berman, for adding a Rule of Construction to his version of the Dodd bill which states, ``nothing in this Act shall be construed as affecting in any way any provision of the Iran Freedom Support Act of 2006, Public Law 109-293.''

Since the legislation retains a ``notwithstanding'' clause for section 103, I hope that the Rule of Construction will be sufficient to prevent the unraveling

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of sanctions codified 2 years ago. Additionally, Mr. Speaker, portions of section 104 are essentially a repetition of current law as section 2(f) of the Executive Order 13059 codified.

In this respect, Chairman Berman, I would appreciate or his substitute, Mr. Ackerman, clarification that the waiver in section 104 would not apply to sanctions already in place, even if these have been restated in the legislation.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that the reporting requirements have been strengthened with respect to investments in Iran's energy sector since January 1 of this year. However, I ask to add language to the bill before us that would amend current law and force a determination on whether foreign investments in Iran's energy sector violate the Iran Sanctions Act and whether sanctions should be implemented. My proposal was not limited to the last 9 months of activity or to simply reporting requirements. But this modification was not incorporated in the text that we are considering today.

Looking to other sections of this House version of the Dodd bill, there are provisions seeking to prevent the export or trans-shipment of U.S.-origin goods to Iran. Except for the language calling for the designation of a country as a Destination of Possible Diversion Concern, this bill duplicates most existing laws and regulations on these issues, as well as current U.S. Government programs. It does provide for the application of licensing controls to the countries designated, but immediately affords yet another mere ``national interest waiver.''

There are also stronger bills pending on the issue of trans-shipment, such as H.R. 6178, the Security Through Termination of Proliferation Act, or the STOP Act. And I hope that we can work together to move that legislation in the next Congress.

My good friend, Howard Berman, shares with me concerns about trans-shipment and diversion of sensitive materials and technology to Iran. We articulated them in our letter of February 5, 2008, a letter to Admiral McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, raising these and many other vital issues.

Mr. Speaker, also on this issue I recently wrote to my chairman, HOWARD BERMAN, asking for greater scrutiny of foreign military financing, foreign military sales and direct commercial sales to countries that are a trans-shipment concern for U.S.-origin goods to Iran.

In closing, Mr. Speaker, despite my grave, serious and repeated reservations about this weak bill, I will vote for it, and I hope that the Iranian regime and its enablers do not see this as a sign of weakness on our part.


Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Speaker, I would like to yield myself such time as I may consume.

I would like to point out that the reports that we are getting about the threat of a nuclear-powered Iran are coming from all corners of the world, and I would like to read just segments of the online edition of The Jerusalem Post posted by Herb Keinon. It says, ``Military Intelligence: Iran Halfway to First Nuclear Bomb.'' It reads, ``Iran is halfway to a nuclear bomb, and Hezbollah, Hamas and Syria are using this period of relative calm to significantly rearm.''

This is according to the Head of Research from the Israeli Military Intelligence, and that is the information that he gave and he shared with members of the Israeli Cabinet and the Israeli Parliament on September 21st, in the Knesset. He said there was a growing gap between Iran's progress on the nuclear front and the determination of the West to stop it. A growing gap. Iran gets closer, our determination is stopped. Iran is concentrating on uranium enrichment and is making progress.

He noted that they have improved the function of their 4,000 centrifuges. According to this military intelligence head of research, Iranian centrifuges have so far produced between one-third to one-half of the enriched material that is needed to build a nuclear bomb. The time that they will have crossed the nuclear point of no return is fast approaching.

Although he stopped short of giving a firm deadline, last week in the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, he put the date at 2011. Tick tock, the clock is ticking. He said that their confidence is growing with the thought that the international community is not strong enough to stop them. He said that the Iranians were playing for time and that time was working in their favor because the longer the process dragged on, the wider the riffs appearing among the countries in the west, then Iran is in control of the technology and continues to move forward with determination toward a nuclear bomb.

In addition to their nuclear efforts, Iranians were also deepening their influence throughout the region, because they are cooperating with Syria. They are cooperating with the Palestinian terrorist organization, as well as being the main arms supplier to another terrorist group, Hezbollah.

While I appreciate the intentions of my good friend, Chairman Berman, this bill does fall far short of the type of comprehensive sanctions that would truly cripple the Iranian economy, which is dependent on investments in its energy sector. Setting aside the weakness of the bill regarding the U.S. direct sanctions on the regime, it does nothing tangible to force the executive branch's hand to fully implement the Iran Sanctions Act.

It could have, but language to include an automatic trigger for a determination of sanctions was not in place in this bill, and it was not to be. This bill had great promise. It does deliver on some of those promises. I wish that it could have gone further, but I hope that my colleagues will adopt this important bill tonight.


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