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Chairman Menendez Opening Statement at Hearing, “U.S. Policy Toward Iran”

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the below statement, as prepared for delivery, at today’s hearing, “U.S. Policy Toward Iran.”

The remarks follow: 

“Today we are here to take a close look at -- and discuss U.S. policy toward -- Iran.

Iran’s provocative actions threaten not just regional stability, but pose an existential threat to our ally Israel, and are a threat to U.S. national security. 

Iran continues to export terrorist activity directly and through proxies, like Hezbollah; it actively supports the Assad regime in Syria with fighters, arms, and petroleum; and its drive for nuclear weapons is unrelenting, placing Iran at the top of our list of national security concerns.

In my view, it remains the paramount national security challenge we face, certainly in the Middle East if not the world.

I called this hearing today because we are now at a crossroads in our Iran policy and the question today is what do we do next?

The Obama Administration -- in concert with Congress -- has pursued the dual-track approach of diplomacy and sanctions. 

Last week members of the committee met with Lady Ashton -- who has led the diplomatic track with the P5+1 along with Undersecretary Sherman.

The talks have been central in demonstrating to the world that it is Iran -- and not the United States -- that is acting in bad faith -- and it is Iran that -- through its obstinance -- has helped galvanize the international community to increase the pressure.

But the talks have failed to achieve their central objective: getting Iran to make concessions on the nuclear program.

It is clear to me that we cannot allow the Iranians to continue to drag their feet and buy time -- even as the centrifuges keep spinning.

A nuclear-armed Iran is not an option... which is why I have been fully dedicated to doing everything we can to stop Iran from ever crossing that threshold – and why I introduced Senate Resolution 65 with Senator Graham that makes clear that a nuclear Iran is not an option and that the Unites States has Israel’s back.

It is my view that we need to continue to apply pressure and that we must bring along the international community in our effort.

Although Iran’s crude oil exports have been cut in half – from 2.5 million barrels per day in 2011 to approximately 1.25 million barrels per day now, Iran still had energy sector exports of exported $83 billion in 2012, including $60 billion in oil and another $23 billion in natural gas, fuel oil and condensates.

So -- while the sanctions are working -- they aren’t enough, and they aren’t working fast enough.

At this moment we need to double down on four fronts. 

First, we need to encourage further reductions in energy sector purchases from Iran, including purchases of petroleum, fuel oil and condensates and prevent Iran from engaging in trade in precious metals to circumvent sanction.  

Second, we need to ensure that we’ve prohibited trade with Iran with respect to all dual-use items that can be used in Iran’s nuclear program.  That means adding additional industry sectors to the trade prohibition list.

Third, we need to ask the international community to ramp up the pressure and change Tehran’s calculus.  A nuclear Iran -- after all -- isn’t only an American problem.

Fourth, the time may have also come to look more seriously at all options -- and that would include increasing military pressure against Iran. I believe there is still time for diplomacy to work but increased military pressure could signal to the Supreme Leader that a nuclear program will undermine the security of his regime – not improve it.

Fundamentally, the challenge remains a difficult one, and we are walking a very fine line.  How do we convince the Supreme Leader that his continued pursuit of nuclear weapons is threatening the very existence of his regime?

To help us understand the current state of affairs and explore ways to meet this national security challenge are: Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and David Cohen, Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

Thank you to our witnesses for being here today and with that, I turn to Senator Corker for his opening statement.”