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Press Conference With Senator Josheph Lieberman; Senator John McCain; And Senator Lindsey Graham

Press Conference

Location: Washington, DC

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SEN. LIEBERMAN: Well, good morning. I wanted Senator McCain to start this morning, but he cleverly called a vote and I was -- I lost two-to-one. So I'm going to start. Thanks for being here.

Over the last two weeks, we have seen how in the 21st century technology can empower millions of ordinary people to resist the stranglehold of a repressive regime. Through blogs, text messages and social networking websites like Twitter and Facebook, Iranians from all walks of life have been able to use cyberspace to exercise their fundamental rights to free speech and free assembly, and to share information among themselves and with the outside world about what has been happening inside their country.

And what has been happening inside their country has been both inspiring, as we've watched the yearning desire of the Iranian people for freedom and a better life come forward with courage to speak against the regime, and yet we've ultimately watched the regime brutally repress their own people.

The fact is that, as we acknowledge in our Declaration of Independence, there is in every human being a desire for freedom. We say in our Declaration that that's a right that every person has as an endowment from our creator. That yearning desire, that flame burning inside everybody, for now seems too much in Iran, to have been pushed out of the streets by the brutality of the regime. But the flame of freedom, the yearning of the Iranian people for freedom, has not been extinguished. And we, as Americans, because of our founding and still driving ideals of freedom, rule of law, the right of assembly, the right of free speech, have a responsibility to do what we can to stand with those around the world -- and now particularly in Iran -- who are asserting their freedom.

That's why Senator McCain and Senator Graham and I are announcing today our intention to introduce legislation when we return from the recess that will stand with the people of Iran.

We've seen how the regime has tried to deploy new technologies to restrict its people from getting access to information, prevent its people from exercising their freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, particularly online. The Iranian government has jammed satellites and radio broadcasts, disrupted cell phone service, monitored Internet use, and blocked particular websites. It's now trying to slam shut the door that a vibrant election had begun to open.

The legislation we intend to introduce is inspired by a clear and simple purpose. We want the Iranian people to be able to stay one step ahead of the Iranian regime, getting access to information and safely exercising freedom of speech and freedom of assembly online.

I know somebody asked don't we risk discrediting the forces of change and reform -- of -- and reform in Iran and risk that the regime will accuse us of meddling. I would ask if we don't stand up for the fundamental rights of the Iranian people to speak freely, to assemble peacefully, don't we risk abandoning our own first principles as Americans and undermining the courageous quest of the Iranian people for freedom.

This legislation is not about endorsing one or aiding one particular civil society group versus another in Iran. It's not about handing out money to groups in Iran. It's about the fundamental right of all Iranians to get access to the information that they want and to speak with one another.

I'm going to yield at this point to Senator McCain to talk in more detail about the package of proposals that we are introducing. But let me say again how proud I am to stand with my two colleagues across party lines in support of the ideals that have always animated America and that we've seen powerfully on display in the streets of Iran, from the people of Iran, over the last two weeks.

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, I'm pleased to be here with Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, and I think that it would be repetitious and not nearly as convincing to repeat the statements that -- in my own words the compelling statement that Senator Lieberman just gave. So let me get to the aspects of the legislation that we're introducing.

Radio Farda. As I mentioned, Radio Farda is part of Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, based in Prague, and what its broadcasts -- isn't propaganda or even public diplomacy. Rather, its job is surrogate broadcasting, providing the Iranian people with the kind of unbiased, uncensored news and other information they would get in the event that they were living in a free society.

Unfortunately, as Joe mentioned, the Iranian government has taken several steps aimed at jamming Radio Farda's signals, and even under the best of circumstances, its coverage doesn't reach the entire country.

Our bill will authorize additional funding, to give Radio Farda the ability to confront this jamming more aggressively and to expand its reach across the country, with additional shortwave capacity, additional satellite time and increased proxy capacity.

VOA Persian service: The Voice of America provides eight hours of television broadcast by satellite, into Iran, every day on a 24- hour loop. A few weeks ago, in response to the election, VOA added an additional hour of programming on a temporary basis.

This legislation would authorize the funding, to make that additional hour of programming permanent and explore adding to it. I would also add, the traffic from Iran to VOA's website increased over 800 percent during one weekend earlier this month.

That's because the Iranian people want unbiased information about what's happening in their country. The question is whether we take the steps necessary to ensure they get it.

Internet activities; as Joe mentioned, Iran is one of the most wired countries in the world. And the young population of that nation has employed the Internet to exchange information, network socially and engage in dialogue with people from outside world.

From these very reasons, the Iranian government recognizes that the Internet is a threat, to its stranglehold over society, and has tried to impose its repressive controls over it.

The legislation would authorize funds to help ensure that Iranians have the hardware, software and other tools to evade the censorship and surveillance of the regime online. We'd also like to examine the possibility of establishing one or more Farsi-language, Internet-based television channels that would broadcast news and other information.

In addition, there are news reports suggesting that non-Iranian companies have helped the government, in putting into place filtering regimes and methods by which the government can monitor and even track down sources of political content deemed off-limits by the regime. We'll ask the U.S. government to look specifically into this and report to Congress with its findings.

Cellular phone activities; millions of Americans and particularly young Iranians communicate via texting on cellphones. They not only download news onto their phones but they also report and disseminate news, by sharing photographs and videos.

We've seen the most dramatic illustrations of that in the last couple of weeks.

For this reason, the Iranian regime has tried to disrupt and monitor cell phone networks. The bill would authorize funding to foster the spread of technologies that would make it harder for the Iranian regime to crack down in this way.

Human rights. Anyone who's seen even a bit of coverage of the dramatic events of recent days knows that the human rights abuses that have taken place are nothing short of appalling. There's a need to document, collect and disseminate information about human rights in Iran, including abuses of human rights that have taken place since the presidential election. Our bill would authorize a program to do just that. That is by no means a complete list of what needs to be done.

I would point out, on the issue of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, back during the Cold War, we provided the Polish people and dissidents with printing presses. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are the modern day printing presses; they are the way -- they are the way to spread information and keep the hope of freedom alive amongst the Iranian people.

And just a couple more things real quick. The -- from the incredible to the outrageous, the Iranian soccer team -- their national soccer team -- four players wore green arm bands and they were banned from the team. Far more -- far more concerning is public confessions, where we are seeing an old tactic that was not -- maybe not invented but certainly perfected by the KGB and we saw during the days of the Soviet Union of people who are confessing -- detainees who are confessing various -- what amounts to collaboration with foreign powers against the Iranian state, faces covered up, statements made. It's -- it's outrageous.

Finally, I would commend to everyone -- this morning's Wall Street Journal has a column by Garry Kasparov, the world chess champion and leader of the opposition in Russia.

And his final comment is, "Millions of Iranians are fighting to join the free world. The least we can do is let the valiant people of Iran know loud and clear that they will be welcomed with open arms."

As Joe said, we don't take the side of either candidate. There seems to be some confusion about that. We take the side of the Iranian people to have human rights, to have the freedoms that we deem universal and this argument about that somehow the government may be more repressive if we speak out on behalf of the people. We've seen that movie before.

The liberal left during the Cold War warned that if we spoke out for the people who were captive nations, members of captive nations that that would lead to greater repression. We found out after the Berlin Wall came down that we were, in their words, a beacon of hope and liberty and freedom for them.

So the liberal left will again continue to argue that we should be nice to the Iranian regime and we shouldn't encourage dissidents. That is in direct contradiction to the fundamental principles of the United States of America.

SEN. GRAHAM: If I may add, if you look back in history, it just wasn't the liberal left criticizing Ronald Reagan; people in his own administration tried to dissuade him from making the "Tear Down This Wall" speech and the only person I think that voted against the resolution in the House condemning Iran was Ron Paul.

So I just want to put on record that a lot of people have gotten it wrong and this is not about, you know, my expertise versus somebody in a think tank. It's about me doing what I think I need to do as an American, as somebody who is awed by the courage it takes to go the streets knowing you may not come back or you get killed or injured. I mean, people in my country, our country have done that. They've risked their lives and how can you sit on the sidelines and watch it?

It's not about who is president of Iran, it's about right and wrong. And that's what Ronald Reagan understood. Ronald Reagan understood, yes, you negotiate, but you negotiate by telling the truth to the people you're negotiating with. We need to tell the truth about this regime.

The people in Iran need to hear the truth. The organizations that you represent have been accused by the Iranian government as being agents of foreign powers. Does that mean you stop? Because people say outrageous things and thugs and dictators will try to twist your words. That's no reason to stop speaking those words if they're true.

And what Ronald Reagan and the Pope said did penetrate. And with this legislation, the chance of the truth penetrating Iran is greater and the truth will set these people free. And I hope that we can as Republicans and Democrats, understand not only the limitations we have as a nation, but also the obligations we have.

So I reject the idea that speaking loudly and boldly and assisting the people in Iran is somehow bad foreign policy. It is the only foreign policy that makes any sense to an American and I think it's going to make sense to the people in Iran.

So this legislation empowers the truth. It gives resources behind transparency.

Finally, as to this election, the people who will -- a group that will kick out the media, shut down the Internet, shoot young girls in the streets, send IEDs to a neighboring country to kill coalition forces, helping that country and innocent Iraqis, that will fund Hezbollah and Hamas to destroy Israel, is the same group of people that will rig elections.

So if you're wondering about this election given the behavior of this regime, how could they possibly endorse a fair election?

So the truth is, this election was rigged and the people in Iran are trying to speak out and we need to help them and this bill is a first step to what I think will be a long journey that if we stand right, stand tall and help, can have an outcome that will make Iran and the world a safer place.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Questions?

Q (Off mike.) Senator McCain, you have been pretty up front in calling on President Obama to make a clearer stand -- (inaudible). He came out on Tuesday and did something to that effect, some say, would you agree that he took a clearer stand on Tuesday?

SEN. MCCAIN: Yes. I appreciate it. Now, I'd like to see him follow up, including supporting this legislation and other measures to help move this process of democracy and freedom along, but I would also point out that there seems to be continued controversy about this issue of negotiating with the Iranians. The fact is that the Iranian government is now illegitimate and we, obviously, want to work with any regime that will be in furtherance of United States national security interests and goals. But this is clearly an illegitimate regime and we and the world recognizes that if we're going to have any relations with them

SEN. LIEBERMAN: And I just want to add to what John has said. He makes a very important point, you know, I favor engagement because of the threat of the Iranian nuclear program. I've been skeptical about whether it could succeed. But now after what's happened in Iran over the last couple of weeks as Senator McCain has said, we've got to be really careful, you've got to be really careful that U.S. engagement with Iran in the near-term will convey legitimacy on Ahmadinejad and the supreme leader that they crave now, but don't deserve based on the results of the election.

I'd also say and this kind of echoes what Sakharov said about the Soviet Union that if a country lies to its own people about the results of an election and then brutalizes them, and in some cases, kills them, when they protest that lie, it's going to be very hard to trust anything they say in the way of an agreement that results from that engagement.

So this is a tough moment because we know the clock is running on the Iranian nuclear program and they'd probably like to engage to see if we can by peaceful means get them to turn away from nuclear weapons, but it's going to be very difficult now because of what this repressive regime has done to its people and in doing to its people has shown the rest of the world what it's really about.

Q (Off mike) -- move this bill through the process -- (inaudible)?

SEN. LIEBERMAN: I hope it has more momentum than my '04 presidential campaign. This is just an idea -- series of ideas the three of us have put together and we can see from reports from Iran that the repression of the regime has had an effect and that the number of people going out into the streets -- the reaction yesterday of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps was brutal, bloody, and therefore as I said earlier, the freedom-loving Iranians, freedom fighters really have been forced inside, but we want them to know that we're with them and the best way we can be with them is with this package of assistance to them to enable them to exercise their rights and to stop the Iranian government by technological means from repressing their rights.

So I think this is a broadly acceptable package. The short answer to your question is I haven't talked to Senator Reid yet, but I will. As we said, we're going to draft this legislation over the next week and then introduce it when we get back.

Incidentally, real briefly, there are a couple of things the administration can do. I was going to ask my colleagues to get together and write to Secretary Clinton to ask if she would reprogram some State Department money to supplement the budget of the Voice of America and Radio Farda in the short run before this appropriation can go forward, and second, it may sound inconsequential, but I thought it was significant and encouraging that the administration withdrew the invitation to Iranian government representatives around the world to attend the 4th of July parties at our embassies.

I hope our government will now reach out and invite Iranians in exile around the world, Iranian dissidents to come to the 4th of July parties in American embassies around the world.

Q (Off mike) -- ambassador to Syria. Do you support this -- (inaudible)?

SEN. MCCAIN: I think that one of the responsibilities of the president is to make those kinds of decisions, obviously, we'd like to know the reasons behind it, but I think that if they see a reason to do that and I'd like to hear their reasons for doing so. But I can't just out of hand reject it.

I do know that suicide bombers continue to land at the airport in Damascus and go across the border into Iraq, but we'll see.

Go ahead.

Q (Off mike.) Thank you, Senator. Despite U.N. sanctions on Iran, China has quietly become the largest trading partner of the regime (inaudible). At this point in time, how do you feel about the role that China has played in the last month or so on this? And do you think it's time for Obama to impress on Beijing --

SEN. MCCAIN: China has been unhelpful, especially on the issue of North Korea. These sanctions that were enacted by the U.N. especially on the issue of stopping ships that may be carrying weapons or missiles or nuclear technology is toothless. To follow a ship into a port as apparently a North Korean ship was going to a port in Myanmar, you're not going to get anything out of that. I think we all know that.

And I think that it's time we told the Chinese that an important part of our relationship is how they react as far as North Korea is concerned, but also as far as Iran is concerned. But I would focus a lot of my attention on China as far as North Korea is concerned. They're literally the only nation that has any significant influence on North Korean behavior.

Q (Off mike.) President Ahmadinejad accused Obama -- (inaudible) -- wasn't much point in talking to Washington unless the U.S. president apologized and now he's complaining about Obama said on Tuesday and said Mr. Obama made a mistake to say those things. My question is: Why he fell into this trap -- (inaudible) -- I'd like to hear your response and you thought he was too timid before.

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I'm very proud of my president about what he said yesterday or Tuesday. What's today? Thursday. I'm very proud of what he said. I think it was the correct thing to say and at the end of the day, anything coming out of the mouth of Ahmadinejad has to be put in perspective of who he is and what he stands for.

He is diminished based on what he has done and what he has said and what he's willing to do. My president, our president, I think is emboldened by what he said two days ago and the fact that he has spoke out more forcefully is encouraging to me. I want to help this president win in Iraq, Afghanistan, help with Syria and Lebanon. I want to help him make sure that Iran becomes a good story, not just another sad chapter in world history.

So the president of Iran who denies the Holocaust, who sits on the sidelines and watches his own people killed and who wants to hang onto power by brutality we haven't seen since the Soviet Union days, nobody cares what he says or thinks and my president, our president, was right to speak up Tuesday. He's right to continue to speak. He would be right to act because history will judge the difference between what America stands for and what Ahmadinejad stands for only if we show that difference and the President of the United States has shown that difference.

SEN. MCCAIN: Ahmadinejad's comments should be an affirmation that the president said the right thing.


SEN. LIEBERMAN: In other words, as I used to say about Roosevelt, we love him for the enemies he's made.


Q (Off mike.) Any action -- (inaudible)?

SEN. MCCAIN: We are focusing on positive ways to help the Iranian people achieve their goals, facilitating information ability, technological ability, ability to get their message out. That's a separate issue.

Q (Off mike) -- Senator McCain -- (inaudible) -- protests after the elections -- (inaudible) -- about their nuclear stockpile?

SEN. MCCAIN: I think we can continue discussions with anybody about any thing, but for the President of the United States to agree to sit down across the table from an individual who is just responsible for the beating and killing of his citizens and brutal oppression and repression, it's certainly something that I wouldn't do.

SEN. GRAHAM: Can I just add something? If you're going to negotiate with someone, they size you up. I'm very proud that the president has spoken the truth to the abuse in Iran, and now in my opinion, when he sits down and negotiates with anyone, they will see a man who understands the world in which we live in and by him speaking up and speaking out and leading, he will be able in my opinion to be more effective and I think what he did Tuesday is going to make him stronger as he engages some of the tough problems in this world.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: And I'll just say on that is a lot of evidence that America has been interested in engaging with Iran and this goes back to the Bush administration, and, of course, now, the Obama administration. There's no evidence that's significant that the Iranians really want to engage with us, in fact, it's clear that the Obama administration has made initiatives of trying to start the engagement within the last few months and the Iranians have not responded. The hope has been that they would respond after the elections, but the world is different now and was indicated by Ahmadinejad's statement. They're much less interested in talking to us than we seem to be interested in talking to them.

Q (Off mike.)

SEN. MCCAIN: I don't know what's going on in the decision making process to do that. So I'll have to get better information before I can make a judgment. I do know that the Syrians have been sponsors of terrorist organizations. I do know that the Syrians have facilitated the movement of suicide bombers through Syria into Iraq, and I know those things.

So I'm very cautious. But for me to immediately condemn an action taken by the administration without knowing their rationale for it is not appropriate. I look forward to hearing their rationale for the decision that they made.

Thank you all very much.

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