Remarks on H.R. 850, the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act
Mr. Speaker, I rise in reluctant opposition to the measure before us today. I have supported the repeated rounds of sanctions enacted by Congress, because of the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran and the intransigence of the Iranian government in defiance of the international community.
These sanctions have brought the Iranian economy to its knees, but they have yet to produce meaningful concessions by the Iranian government. I have thus remained open to the possibility of additional sanctions as part of a broader strategy to induce the Iranian government to change its course.
But the bill before us today simply could not come at a worse time. In three days, Iran will inaugurate a new president, Hassan Rouhani, elected on promises of moderation and openness despite repression and intimidation by the Iranian regime.
Since his election, Dr. Rouhani has made repeated overtures to the international community, signaling his intent to resume the stalled "P-5+1" nuclear talks upon taking office and promising greater transparency and confidence-building measures. He reportedly intends to appoint as his foreign minister a seasoned diplomat who favors closer ties with the West.
Let us be clear: we do not know whether Rouhani truly intends to follow through on these promises. We do not know whether he will be able to overcome the resistance of Iran's hardliners. We do know that history counsels us to be cautious about the prospects for meaningful change in Iran, and that Rouhani's actions will certainly speak louder than his words.
But to rush through a new round of sanctions before the new president has even taken office could slam the window of opportunity shut before we even have a chance to test whether it is genuine.
A recent letter to the President signed by a group of respected former diplomats and military officials -- including Ambassador Tom Pickering and the former Commander of CENTCOM, General Joseph Hoar – has warned that further sanctions "could empower hardliners [in the Iranian government who are] opposed to nuclear concessions, at the expense of those seeking to shift policy in a more moderate direction."
Moreover, by removing the President's authority to relax sanctions on countries that are cooperating with our strategy toward Iran, this bill risks shattering the unprecedented international coalition which we have worked so hard to build -- and thus making sanctions less effective than they currently are!
Some argue that we should not be concerned about the House passing this bill, since it will be some time before the Senate follows suit and longer still before the new sanctions take effect. If that is the case, then why rush this bill to the floor right now? Why not act when we can assess the diplomatic prospects more accurately?
Mr. Speaker, I will take a backseat to no-one when it comes to my concern about the threat posed by a nuclear Iran to our ally Israel, to the broader Middle East, and to the United States of America. I believe we must redouble our efforts to secure an enforceable agreement that ensures Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon.
But sanctions alone do not constitute a strategy. In order to be effective, they must be integrated into a broader strategy that brings all other elements of American power to bear on this challenge. The Administration is working hard to advance such a strategy, with unprecedented cooperation from our international partners.
If the strategy fails to induce the new Iranian government to change its course, then new sanctions may be warranted. But to pass them now only undercuts our nation's strategic objectives. I urge my colleagues to oppose this ill-timed bill, and I yield back the balance of my time.