October 16, 2019

Chairman Risch Opening Statement at Hearing on U.S.-Iran Policy

Washington, D.C. -- U.S. Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today convened a full committee hearing on U.S.-Iran policy, with witness testimony from the Honorable Brian Hook, special representative for Iran at the Department of State.

Chairman Risch gave the following opening statement, as prepared for delivery:

"This morning we have a hearing on a matter that is really of pressing national security importance - the relationship of the United States with Iran.

"This hearing is intended to do three things - we will consider the facts behind the maximum pressure campaign against Iran, we will examine the elements of Iran’s necessary behavioral changes that would satisfy U.S. national security interests, and we will assess Iran’s willingness to behave as a responsible member of the international community.

"Iran’s pursuit of regional domination following the 1979 revolution transformed the fabric of the Middle East. The Iranian regime dangerously catalyzed sectarian identities and weaponized sect and religion against its neighbors. The regime triggered a Sunni-Shia war that threatens to unravel the greater Middle East.

"The nuclear issue is but one aspect of the regime’s malign conduct. Indeed, one of the biggest criticisms I had of the JCPOA was that it addressed only the nuclear issue and not the many other troubling aspects of Iran’s behavior.

"Iran continues to threaten its neighbors with ballistic missiles, conducts criminal maritime activity in international waters, continues to unlawfully hold American citizens, and fuels dangerous proxy conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. Iranian-sponsored precision guided munitions are a threat aimed at the heart of Israel. Iran actively enables Assad’s continued butchery in Syria. Additionally, the regime is working to subvert several other regional governments below the level of armed conflict.

"Iran’s support to proxies is perhaps the most nefarious - ask any of our men and women in uniform who faced Iranian-provided roadside bombs in Iraq. Iran already has American blood on its hands. The lack of a more firm response by prior administrations has only encouraged further Iranian violence.

"Inside of its borders, the regime’s abuses against its own people continue to be a concern. Iranian citizens live under constant threat of arbitrary arrest and torture for expressing their most basic human rights including freedom of expression and religion.

"Despite the regime’s claims of religious legitimacy, it is morally bankrupt - a kleptocracy that steals from its people in order to subvert its neighbors.

"That brings us to a question on the most appropriate policies to curb the totality of Iranian behavior.

"It is my assessment that the maximum pressure campaign against Iran is working and can serve as the bridge to more meaningful negotiations. I note that some of my colleagues have argued publicly that the maximum pressure campaign is not working. I will be the first to concede that the campaign has not yet achieved its goals, but on the other hand it is clearly working.

"Since May of last year, sanctions have denied the regime over $25 billion in oil revenue. The administration estimates it will cost the regime as much as $50 billion annually.

"The Iranian economy faces unprecedented strain. After nearly 30 rounds of highly targeted sanctions, the rial has plunged, inflation is at 50% and climbing, and Iran’s economy is shrinking at a rate that should alarm Tehran - nearly a 6% reduction in GDP for 2019.

"In my judgment, these are clear indications and clear evidence that the sanctions are working.

"For the first time, Iran’s terror proxies have seen a reduction in funding. Hezbollah, once well- funded by Iran, has been reduced to panhandling for donations. Iran’s proxies throughout the region are feeling the pinch - they’re either going without pay or forced to undergo austerity measures to survive.

"Make no mistake, every dollar, every rial we deny the regime is money not spent on terrorism.

"Iran’s requests for total sanctions relief in order to come to the table should be a non-starter. The regime must demonstrate it is willing to negotiate in good faith or face continued pressure.

"This pressure must have an international face. For too long our European friends have sought to preserve a moribund nuclear deal and offered Iran a financial escape hatch to continue destabilizing the region. We have had numerous conversations with our European friends regarding that.

"I welcomed the joint statement from the U.K., France and Germany following Iran’s attacks on Saudi Arabia. Apart from rightly identifying Iran as the culprit, our partners stressed the importance of addressing regional security issues as well the nuclear question.

"But, they must go further than that. Our European partners must follow the United Kingdom’s lead and support the pursuit of behavioral changes on Iran’s part.

"My thoughts on the JCPOA are well known. The deal was a poor one - one that only partly addressed the nuclear issue, ignored the rest of Iran’s terrorist conduct, and enriched the regime’s illicit terrorist proxies.

"Any new deal with Iran should address all facets of Iranian conduct - curbing the ballistic missile program, ensuring freedom of navigation consistent with international law, ending Iranian adventurism, and the regime’s efforts to undermine governments and promote civil war through its proxies - in addition to the nuclear issue.

"The nuclear solution should not merely delay Iranian development of a nuclear weapon or sunset in a manner that allows the regime’s scientists to sprint to the finish line. It is in the U.S.’s vital national security interests that Iran never possess a nuclear weapon.

"And finally, a topic has emerged in public discourse that should be addressed. There are many that blame the U.S. diplomatic and economic efforts as the root cause for Iran’s acts of violence. To you, I say you could not be more wrong. There is one party to blame for Iran’s acts of violence - the Iranian regime.

"The Iranian regime is feeling the weight of the growing community against them. Absent an attack on Americans or American assets abroad, we should not be deterred by Iranian outbursts or attacks on shipping. We should remain steadfast and continue to apply pressure until the regime capitulates and changes behavior.

"The Iranian regime is faced with a sharp choice. It is long since time that Iran enter the community of nations as a responsible actor and enjoy the many benefits, advantages, and cultural progress that all peace-loving nations on the planet take delight in - otherwise, it will remain a pariah state.

"With that, I recognize Ranking Member Menendez for his opening remarks."

The witness testimonies are available on foreign.senate.gov, as is an archived recording of the full hearing. 

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