U.S. Policy Toward Iran
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Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Mr. President, as I mentioned, I rise today to discuss U.S. policy toward Iran--an issue that is critical to our national security and the security of our allies. When we talk about our policy toward Iran, we must do so with our eyes wide open. The Iranian regime is one of the world's leading State sponsors of terrorism. It threatens Israel, it destabilizes the region, and it abuses human rights. That is why I have cosponsored the Iran Policy Oversight Act, a bill that allows Congress to move quickly to impose economic sanctions against Iran's terrorist activity. It expands military aid to Israel, and it ensures that agencies charged with monitoring Iran have the resources they need.
Preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is one of the most important objectives of our national security policy. I have strongly advocated for and supported the economic sanctions that have brought Iran to the negotiating table over the last few years. Those sanctions resulted in a nuclear nonproliferation agreement between Iran and the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China.
The Iran nuclear agreement, as we have talked about many times on this floor--including my own words--is an imperfect but necessary tool to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. In order for the agreement to work, of course, we must remember that simply trusting Iran to do the right thing is not an option. We must be vigilant in our monitoring and in our verification.
In my view, our national security strategy must focus on three things. This is overall: Protecting our citizens, eliminating threats to our national security, and never losing sight of our core American values. It is through this lens that we must approach Iran.
First of all, we must do all we can to keep our own citizens safe. We can't be naive. We cannot trust in the Iranian regime--and the Iranian regime continues to prove that is the case. Iran repeatedly violated the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929 by testing ballistic missiles, most recently on October 10 and November 21 of 2015. The very next month, in December of 2015, Iran conducted a live fire exercise using unguided rockets near a U.S. aircraft carrier in international waters. Make no mistake, this was an intentional provocation.
Just last month Iran announced it flew a surveillance drone over a U.S. aircraft carrier. Afterwards, an Iranian Navy commander went on State TV and said the drone strike was a ``sign of bravery'' that ``allowed our men to go so close to the warship and shoot such beautiful and accurate footage of the combat units of the foreign forces.''
Iran flying military drones over our aircraft carriers means that we must respond.
We also have to keep in mind that Iran isn't just provoking our military. Iran also targets innocent civilians by funding terrorism around the world. Iran is the world's leading State sponsor of terrorism. Iran funds Hezbollah, a terrorist group that wreaks havoc in the Middle East. Recently Hezbollah was accused of recruiting five Palestinian men to attack Israelis using explosives. Luckily, the Israeli defense forces were able to stop the attack before anyone was hurt.
Iran also continues to defend Bashir al-Assad and attack U.S.-backed rebel forces in Syria. The United Nations estimates that Iran spends $6 billion a year to fund Assad's government. What is Assad doing with that money? He buys barrel bombs to level entire Syrian towns. He pays for blockades to prevent food, medicine, and other critical supplies from reaching his own people. He is starving entire villages in northern Syria where children are starving and thousands of people have been forced to survive on grass because Assad and troops from Hezbollah will not let food and medicine get to them.
Iran is funding a government that is responsible for a civil war that has killed 250,000 people and displaced 11 million more. Again, we need to be at the top of our game when it comes to sanctions. The worst would be for a country that behaves in this manner and that disrespects international human rights to have access to a nuclear weapon, which is why many of us in this Chamber did support the agreement. While imperfect, we did support the Iranian nuclear agreement.
Our national security strategy also must focus on eliminating threats. We must demonstrate that the United States has the capability to stand up to Iran when it funds terror and seeks to destabilize the world.
Given Iran's history, we can anticipate that it will test the boundaries of international agreements, and we have to be ready to respond when it does so. That is why we must hold Iran accountable every step of the way. Imposing harsh sanctions against those responsible for Iran's ballistic missile program is a good start.
Iran's ballistic missile program is a threat to regional and global security. Any person or business involved in helping Iran obtain illicit weapons should be banned from doing business with the United States, have their assets and financial operations immediately frozen, and have their travel restricted. Minimizing the threat Iran poses also means working to ensure that the money flowing into Iran now that nuclear sanctions are lifted is not used to further destabilize the region and spread terrorism. We must monitor the flow of terrorist financing and use every tool available to punish bad actors who seek to do harm.
It is also known that Iran has a terrible human rights record. In fact, Iranian Americans and Iranians around the world will be the first people to tell you that 35 years of religious dictatorship has been a human rights nightmare for the people of Iran.
Recently, thousands of Iranians took to the streets of Paris to join a mass demonstration protesting President Ruhani's visit to Paris. Those protestors are demonstrating against things like Iran's policy to permit girls as young as 9 to boys as young as 15 to be sentenced to death. They protested Iran's continuing suppression of journalists and freedom of speech.
Beyond imprisoning journalists--and we do applaud the recent release of the Washington Post journalist. I was so honored to be at the opening recently at the Washington Post facility where he appeared and spoke. We learned how he was taken from his home in Iran at gunpoint, blindfolded, handcuffed, and thrown into solitary confinement for 18 months until recently his release was negotiated. Beyond imprisoning journalists, Iran arbitrarily jails human rights activists, and it oppresses religious minorities including Christians, Jews, and Sunni Muslims.
America has a long history of being an arbiter of peace and security around the world. In order to continue this legacy, we must hold Iran accountable for its human rights violations.
I sponsored the Iran Policy Oversight Act because it is a bill that does three important things to hold Iran accountable. First, it allows Congress to more quickly impose economic sanctions against Iran's terrorist activities. This is really important because the best way to stop terrorism is to cut off the financing for it. We should be doing everything in our power to better track terrorist financing so that we can stop the flow of money that funds suicide bombers and illicit weapons.
The United States and the international community have maintained sanctions against Iran for decades. I have voted to increase sanctions on Iran's oil imports and strengthen sanctions against human rights violators in Iran. Sanctions are a powerful tool, and Congress should exercise its authority to implement them as fast as possible against people who fund international terrorism.
Second, the bill also expands military aid to Israel. The United States plays a critical role in supporting Israel's defense. The United States and Israel have enjoyed a friendship based on values rooted in democracy, freedom, and mutual strategic goals. Protecting Israel--our most reliable ally in the Middle East, the beacon of democracy--against a hostile Iran is essential.
Third, the bill ensures that agencies charged with monitoring Iran have the resources they need. We cannot take Iran's word for it that they are obeying the rules. We need strong independent verification and monitoring. The United States and our European partners must fulfill our obligation to fund the international agencies responsible for that monitoring.
In order to protect our citizens, Congress must exercise its constitutional authority to enact legislation that expands oversight of the Iran nuclear agreement. We must also continue to work with the P5+1 to ensure that the agreement is strictly enforced. Iran must understand that we will not hesitate to snap back sanctions if it fails to comply with the rules. Sanctions were effective at getting Iran to the table, and they will continue to be a tool that allows the United States and our allies to minimize the threat posed by Iran.
Those of us who supported the Iran nuclear agreement have a special responsibility to ensure that it works. In fact, this whole Senate has a responsibility, regardless of whether Members supported it or not. It is in the best interest of our country. We cannot shirk from our duties and we must be vigilant. We owe it to the American people, to Israel, and to our allies. Our mission here is clear: We must protect our own citizens by exercising our authority to enact strong legislation to ensure that Iran does not cheat on its international commitments. Because we know from experience that Iran will test the international community, we must be ready to respond when it does.
Iran must know that if it violates the rules, the response will be certain, swift, and severe. We must also minimize the threat Iran poses to our citizens and the world by doing everything in our power to stop Iran from funding the world's terrorists.
Last year the world was shaken by a series of successful terrorist attacks on innocent civilians. The attacks in Paris, Lebanon, Mali, and San Bernardino, right here in the United States, remind us that the victims of these massacres will never be limited to one nationality or one ethnicity or one religion.
It is critical that we take additional steps to stop countries like Iran from funding terrorism and destabilizing the world. Stopping Iran's support of terrorism protects us here at home, but it also helps millions of refugees fleeing Syria, the children that are starving in cities like Madaya, and the families fleeing mortar fire in Yemen. Our values of justice, democracy, and freedom for all demand nothing less.
Iran's recent behavior suggests that the United States needs to have the ability to snap back as soon as possible. We have to have the ability to impose sanctions. That is why I am supporting this bill. I urge my colleagues to do the same.
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