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Public Statements

The Threat of a Nuclear Armed Iran

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. ANDREWS. Madam Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity, and I would like to thank the members of the House staff that are staying beyond voting hours for our opportunity to speak, and I promise that I will reward your efforts with brevity.

This is the end of another difficult week for a lot of Americans. For too many Americans, it's another week without a paycheck. For many Americans, this is the week their unemployment benefits will expire and they will have no income next week. For many Americans, this is the last weekend they'll be in their home because the foreclosure is about to be executed upon. And sadly, for many Americans, this might be the last time that he or she closes the doors on their business. This time they close it for good.

Our constituents and neighbors are hurting, hurting desperately, and I think there has been far too little attention paid to those problems here in this institution. I hope that when we return after what is, parenthetically, our 12th recess of the year, we will get to work on the jobs problem for our country and try to put our people back to work.

As vital as that jobs crisis is, we can never put our country in a situation where we are not paying attention to threats to our security here at home and around the world. And I do want to spend a few moments this afternoon talking about what I think is a very significant threat, and that is the threat of Iran developing a nuclear weapon.

It is to the credit of the chairwoman of the international relations committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, and the senior Democrat ranking member, Mr. Berman, that yesterday Republicans and Democrats on that committee came together to pass what I consider to be very powerful legislation that would work against the propagation of nuclear weapons by Iran. I hope that legislation is something that will be brought to the floor promptly and supported by Members from both sides. I think it is important to understand what more we could do and why it's so important to do it.

This is another productive day throughout our country. People are going to work in our cities and in our small towns and our suburbs. They are going to classes at universities and schools. They are visiting their loved ones in hospitals. It is, thank God, a normal day in America where we can do the things that we want to do. But, you know, a day 10 years ago in September of 2001 started like a normal day, too. September 11, 2001, was a beautiful, blue sky, crystalline day, and it ended as one of the worst days in the history of our country. The pain of that day is felt by people around this country not just in the New York metropolitan region, not just in Washington, D.C., not just in Pennsylvania, but around the country and around the world.

I fear and dread that a similar day could come from a scenario almost too terrible to imagine. Imagine a group of terrorists who are able to assemble a substantial amount of money but not an impossible amount of money--let's say about $2 million--and they're able to commandeer the services of scientists who are evil enough or hungry enough that they would lend their skills to the destructive task of making a small nuclear device, what we call a small improvised explosive device, a nuclear IED. And they don't need a missile to deliver this nuclear IED; they need a U-Haul truck. So they assemble the IED and they load it on the back of a U-Haul truck, and they drive it to a place where there's a lot of innocent Americans: The National Mall right outside of this building, a sports arena for an NFL football game, Times Square, or a church or a synagogue or a mosque where people are about to worship. And they detonate the IED. The consequences are huge numbers of deaths in the immediate area of the explosion, a significant number of people sickened and eventually dying from nuclear poisoning, the contamination of the area of the explosion, and a devastating blow to the psyche of the United States of America.

How could this happen? Is this possible?

Well, it's possible only if terrorists get access to what's called fissile material from which you can make a nuclear bomb. Fissile material can only come from three places: You can make it, and it takes a very significant industrial complex to do so; you can steal it, and that's a problem that we're working on trying to prevent; or you can have a government that gives it to you because that government is committed to a terrorist agenda.

My colleagues, understand that the risk of Iranian nuclear proliferation includes firing a missile at U.S. troops or U.S. allies in the Middle East. It most certainly includes that risk, but it's not limited to that risk. I think the greatest risk of Iranian nuclear proliferation is the risk of fissile material being handed off by the Iranian Government to a terrorist organization that then assembles a small nuclear IED and brings havoc and death to innocent people in the United States of America. How do we stop that? How do we prevent that from happening? That was the focus of the effort of the Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday, and I think it should be the focus of our country and civilized countries around the world.

Now, it's important to understand the history of this problem, the context of this problem, the risk of this problem, and what I believe is the solution to this problem. The history is this:

Of all the Nations in the world, only one has conducted a nuclear weapons research program and systematically lied about the fact that it has done so, and that one nation is the Republic of Iran. The source, it's a document from the IAEA, the international agency that monitors nuclear development, from September 24, 2005, when that organization said that they were uncertain of Iran's motives in failing to make important declarations over an extended period of time and in pursuing a policy of concealment until October of 2003. This is not a political view of an American legislator or an ideological position of a journal. This is the official statement from the international agency that watches nuclear weapons. That's the history. A long history of deceit and concealment.

What's the context? How is Iran behaving in the present state of world affairs? First of all, they are killing United States troops in Iraq. Here's what the State Department's 2010 country terrorism report had to say about Iran:

Despite its pledge to support the stabilization of Iraq, Iranian authorities continue to provide lethal support, including weapons, training, funding, and guidance to Iraqi Shia militant groups that target U.S. and Iraqi forces.

This is a country that is actively engaged in an attempt to kill American soldiers in Iraq as we speak today.

Secondly, their brutality extends to their own people systematically. Let me highlight just one chilling and horrifying example reported by Amnesty International on October 11, 2011. An actress named Marzieh Vafamehr has become the latest individual to face a sentence of flogging--flogging. She was sentenced on or about October 8, 2011, to a year in prison and 90 lashes.

This is not the Middle Ages. I'm not reading from a historic treatise from the year 800. I'm reading from a sentence passed down by an Iranian court less than a month ago. What was her offense? Her offense was she appeared in a film called ``My Tehran for Sale'' in which she appeared in one scene without the mandatory head covering which women in Iran are required to wear and appears to drink alcohol in another. Her husband denied that she had consumed any alcohol, but the exact charge was levied, and this woman is in prison as we speak and once a month is beaten because she appeared in a movie in a way that was culturally offensive to the regime. This is the regime that is seeking a nuclear weapon.

What else in the context, what else are they up to? Well, let's listen to the statements of the President of Iran. Now he's not the person that really runs the country; the so-called Revolutionary Council does. But he's involved in its government, President Ahmadinejad, and here is what he said:

``Thanks to people's wishes and God's will, the trend for the existence of the Zionist regime is downwards, and this is what God has promised and what all nations want. Just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out.'' This is the regime that is attempting to acquire a nuclear weapon.

And, finally, we were all, I think, stunned by the reports last week that individuals who allegedly had ties to the Iranian Government were indicted in the American court system for allegedly plotting the assassination of the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States on U.S. soil. Now, Madam Speaker, I would hasten to point out, as you well know, in our system these are allegations, not facts, and so we cannot say that these things are true. But I can scarcely think of a time in the history of our country where we have indicted foreign nationals or U.S. citizens for an alleged conspiracy to murder a foreign diplomat on our soil. Perhaps these individuals will be found not guilty. Perhaps they will be found guilty. But the fact that there was probable cause to make such an assertion is deeply shocking and disconcerting. This is the regime that is attempting to achieve a nuclear weapon.

Now how close are they? Here's a report from May 24 of 2011. The world's global nuclear inspection agency, the IAEA, frustrated by Iran's refusal to answer questions, revealed for the first time on Tuesday that it, meaning the U.N. agency that watches nuclear weapons, it possesses evidence that Tehran has conducted work on a highly sophisticated nuclear triggering technology that experts said could be used for only one purpose: setting off a nuclear weapon. This is the regime that says it is trying to acquire centrifuges and nuclear power plants to create nuclear power for its people. But the quote that I just read is from the international agency, not from U.S. intelligence, not from our allies, not from those who oppose the Iranian regime, but from the neutral international agency, which, frankly, has criticized the United States on occasion, from the neutral international agency talking about what the Iranians are up to.

Now it's classified information as to how close they are to receiving this, and we are all under an oath not to talk about that classified information, but the public record is replete with information that the Iranians are aggressively pursuing such a weapon.

And here's an academic analysis that talks about how such a weapon could be used by a terrorist group that would be the beneficiary of an Iranian handoff of fissile material. Based upon this professor's analysis, and this is written by the executive director for the Project on Managing the Atom, Jeffrey Lewis from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, the article is called the ``Economics of Nuclear Terrorism.'' Here is what Professor Lewis has to say: A terrorist organization like al Qaeda could plausibly build and deliver a nuclear weapon for less than $2 million. Two million dollars. Now, of course, that's $2 million after you've received the fissile material or bought it. Well, such an organization would now have a willing partner in Tehran that would own and be able to produce such fissile material.

We have an urgent economic crisis in our country. We need to fix it. We have a lot of other problems we need to fix. But this is happening. And we cannot let our attention to our economic crisis take our attention away from our duty to prevent this kind of catastrophe from happening to innocent people in the world.

So what do we do about it? What's the solution? How do we go forward in a way that stops the Iranians from getting this fissile material? To the credit of this Congress, both parties, and President Obama, the United States imposed bilateral sanctions on the Iranians about a year and a half ago. And to the credit of the United Nations Security Council, the United Nations Security Council imposed modest sanctions on the Iranians about a year ago, and there is some evidence that these sanctions are beginning to work.

The United States sanctions, which were led by then-ranking member Ros-Lehtinen and now chairwoman, and by then-Chairman Berman, now ranking member, and frankly that relied upon the work of Senator Kirk in the Senate, focused on a gasoline embargo. It's an odd fact, but Iran, which is a country which exports crude oil, imports about 40 percent of its gasoline because its economy is so dysfunctional that it cannot refine its own products. Before the U.S. sanctions were imposed, the price of a gallon of gasoline heavily subsidized in Iran was 38 cents a gallon. Today it's $1.58 a gallon.

Now what does this mean? It means that an Iranian citizen who used to have to work 1 hour to fill their gas tank once a week now has to work 5 hours to fill their gas tank once a week. This is not a huge sacrifice, but it's making a dent in the economy of Iran.

It is our intention, obviously, not to in any way punish or jeopardize the well-being of the Iranian people. They are our friends, and we want them to be our friends and allies for years to come. But the simple, and I think compelling, logic of these sanctions is we are compelling the Iranian leadership to choose between pursuing their nuclear weapons ambitions but suffering economic consequences or abandoning those nuclear weapons ambitions and having the opportunity to restore their economy to some basic degree of health.

By the way, at a time when crude oil prices were rising, the Iranian economy stagnated. They had a negative growth of 1 percent last year, and they had stagnant growth the year before that. So at a time when they should have been enjoying robust economic growth because of rising crude oil prices, they were stagnant because of the effectiveness of these sanctions.

Perhaps the best evidence of effectiveness was from President Ahmadinejad himself, who this week stood before their parliament defending a cabinet member of his who is accused of some wrongdoing and said that one of the reasons why they had to engage in the wrongdoing was their economy was in bad shape because ``we can't do international banking transactions anymore.'' Well, there's some good news.

What I'm suggesting here is that the House should move rapidly to embrace and support the legislation that the Foreign Relations Committee marked up yesterday. And I think that legislation will enjoy broad Republican and Democratic support, as it did yesterday. I believe it was approved unanimously by the committee. I would then urge our administration to work with the Congress and sign such legislation and implement it.

Now, listen, Madam Speaker, I fully understand that sanctions alone may not be sufficient. And I'm not here today to argue for that proposition. What I am here today to argue for is the proposition that the sanctions we have imposed thus far have shown some signs of success. I think this is the time to intensify those sanctions, not to weaken them. I think this is a time for us to intensify our unified national resolve on this question. And despite our very profound differences on matters of economics and social policy, which is what a democracy ought to have, there should be no difference between us on the question of standing in a unified fashion in favor of more intense sanctions against Iran. The need is urgent and compelling.

You know, Madam Speaker, if someone had stood in this Chamber in the mid-1990s and said, If we don't focus our intelligence efforts on an obscure group of former mujahedin rebels in Afghanistan called al Qaeda, if we don't do that, the day may come when we will have a domestic Pearl Harbor, when the World Trade Centers will collapse, when thousands of people will perish, when the Pentagon, our own air space, will be attacked by civilians in our country, I think one would have thought that the Member was auditioning for a Tom Clancy film. It would sound very fantastic, very unlikely, and almost like science fiction or a spy thriller.

I wish September 11, 2001, had been fiction--I wish. That we had not had to go to those funerals and comfort those families who suffer today, I wish that were the fact. And there will be some who will say that the scenario we talked about earlier, about a nuclear IED exploding in Times Square or the National Mall or an NFL football game, is too provocative or too sensational or too scary. I hope they're absolutely right; I hope it's total fiction.

But I think we ought to know better. I think we ought to know better that there is a regime which has demonstrated its deceit, which has manifested its evil toward its own people and to our troops in the Middle East, that has used language that is more than just purple language, that is language that goes beyond the pale about the annihilation of Israel and of all those who would stand with Israel, and that now stands accused--or persons alleged to have been tied to that regime now stand accused in our courts of participating in a conspiracy to assassinate a foreign diplomat on our soil. These are people we should be concerned about.

And as we look at the question of whether such an attack could happen, I think the question is unequivocally: Yes, it can. Our responsibility is to, with equal equivocation, say, no, it won't, no, it won't; that we will use the resources at our disposal--our international alliances, our economic leverage, our diplomatic skill--to try to move the Iranians to the point where they would accept a reasonable deal which says if you want to have nuclear power plants in your country, that's your sovereign right; but you must buy your fuel from outside the country and you must abandon your ability to manufacture and synthesize fuel. That's a reasonable and fair settlement. We should use every tool at our disposal to encourage the Iranian Government to accept such a settlement.

And as any wise President should do, as President Obama has done, as President Bush did before him, as President Clinton did before him, as President Bush did before him, as Presidents Reagan and Carter did before them, any prudent American President must reserve the right to defend our sovereign interests with whatever tools are necessary should the need arise. I pray that the need will never arise. And I think if we act intelligently, forcefully, but urgently, I think that we can avoid that day and avoid a situation like I described earlier.

So, Madam Speaker, thank you for this time this afternoon. I'd like to again thank the staff for its indulgence. I commend the chairwoman of our committee and the ranking member. And I look forward to supporting their legislation, broadening our unified, bipartisan national effort to stand strong against the tyranny and evil of this regime and for the welfare of innocent people throughout the world and throughout our country.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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