Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012

Floor Speech

Date: Sept. 19, 2012
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. DUNCAN of South Carolina. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman, for your leadership on this very important issue.

I want to pause to thank the gentleman from New York (Mr. Higgins) for his leadership on the other side of the aisle.

Last week, Congress took a rare break from our work here and from partisanship. We came together to remember those who died on 9/11 and during the war on terrorism. We stood together on the Capitol steps, and we pledged that we would never forget the heartbreaking events of that fateful day. One of the ways we can honor the memory of those who lost their lives is to be prepared so that our country will never again experience such a tragedy.

Mr. Speaker, that's why I'm standing before you today, thanking you and the Members of the body for putting partisanship aside and for working together to keep our families and our communities safe from new and emerging threats to our Nation.

We are all aware of the Iranian nuclear threat in the Middle East and globally, but there is another potential threat from Iran and its proxies that is closer to home. That threat is an emerging Iranian-backed terror network here in the Western Hemisphere. What we already know is very alarming.

We know about last October's foiled Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the U.S. here on American soil.

We know that Iran has vastly expanded its diplomatic and economic footprint in Latin America. For example, we know about the Department of Defense's 2012 Annual Report on Iran that stated:

During the past three decades, Iran has methodically cultivated a network of sponsored terrorist surrogates capable of targeting U.S. and Israeli interests.

Just this month, the Brazilian journal Veja and others reported on a police seizure in Bolivia of 2 tons of minerals believed initially to contain uranium but more likely tantalum, which is the mineral that is in demand for, among other things, nuclear reactors and missile parts.

We know that 2 weeks ago an Israeli news organization revealed that Iran has established a Hezbollah terrorist training base in northern Nicaragua with operatives ``being trained at the base to attack Israeli and U.S. targets in the event of a raid on Iranian nuclear installations.''

And we know that just last week, press reports revealed that three suspected Hezbollah members were arrested just south of our border in Mexico.

None of this should come as a surprise. Iran has publicly stated that increasing their presence and ties to Latin America is one of their top foreign policy objectives; however, we must have the capabilities to defend ourselves from potential Iranian attacks here on the homeland. We must be able to clearly identify this emerging threat and develop strategies which include working with our neighbors here in this hemisphere to prevent Iran from being a danger to our country here at home.

Mr. Speaker, that's why this bill, H.R. 3783, establishes a strong U.S. posture, policy, and relationship with Latin American countries. It protects U.S. interests and assets in the Western Hemisphere, such as embassies, consulates, energy pipelines, and cultural organizations, including threats to U.S. allies. It addresses the vital national security interests of the United States by ensuring that energy supplies from the Western Hemisphere are free from the influence of any foreign government that would attempt to manipulate or disrupt global energy markets.

This bill requires a secure U.S. border with the U.S. working in coordination with the governments of Mexico and Canada to prevent Iranian operatives from entering the United States. This bill counters the efforts by foreign persons, entities, and governments in the region which may assist Iran in evading U.S. and international sanctions.

Mr. Speaker and Madam Chairwoman, I urge that Members of this body come together and vote for this very important issue, H.R. 3783.

Last week marked the 11th anniversary of al Qaeda's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Al Qaeda, responsible for the tragic deaths of nearly 3,000 people on 9/11, has long operated with extensive ties to the Government of Iran. The 9/11 Commission documented that al Qaeda operatives traveled to Iran to receive training in explosives in the 1990s, that ``Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.'' This past February, the Treasury Department designated the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security for its support of terrorist groups including al Qaeda.

Today, the Iranian regime continues pursuing nuclear weapons against U.S. and international sanctions. It warns of striking U.S. military bases with its ballistic missiles in the event of an attack on Iran. It bullies the global energy market with its threats to block the Strait of Hormuz. Last October's foiled Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. revealed, as DNI Director Clapper stated, a change in ``calculus'' and a willingness ``to conduct an attack in the United States.'' This year alone, a string of assassination attempts by Iran and Hezbollah in Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Thailand, Georgia, and Kenya have only intensified this drumbeat.

Add to these dangers a growing Iranian presence in the Western Hemisphere and we have a serious security threat that demands a U.S. response. Since 2005, Iran has increased its embassies from 6 to 11 and built 17 cultural centers in Latin America. Iran's diplomacy has led to soaring trade with Latin American countries. Brazil increased its exports to Iran seven-fold over the past decade to an annual level of $2.12 billion. Iranian trade with Argentina and Ecuador has grown, and economic contracts between Iran and Venezuela have exploded to more than $20 billion in trade and cooperation agreements.

Iran has also boosted its military ties with Latin America. The Defense Department assesses ``with high confidence that during the past three decades Iran has methodically cultivated a network of sponsored terrorist surrogates capable of targeting U.S. and Israeli interests.'' The U.S. Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute has labeled this threat tied to the explosion of relationships between transnational crime and criminalized states in Latin America an ``emerging tier-one national security priority.'' Two weeks ago, an Israeli news organization published a story that ``Iran has established a Hizbullah terrorist training base in northern Nicaragua'' with operatives ``being trained at the base to attack Israeli and U.S. targets in the event of a raid on Iranian nuclear installations.'' Last week, press reports revealed that three suspected Hezbollah members were arrested in Mexico.

None of this should come as any surprise to us. Iran has publicly stated that ``the promotion of all-out cooperation with Latin American countries is among the top priorities of the Islamic Republic's foreign policy.'' A 2009 dossier by Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs put it bluntly: ``since Ahmadinejad's rise to power, Tehran has been promoting an aggressive policy aimed at bolstering its ties with Latin American countries with the declared goal of `bringing America to its knees.'

The U.S. must have the capabilities to defend itself from a potential Iranian attack on the homeland. We must have a strong posture in our region and deepening relationships with our neighbors, so we can protect U.S. interests and keep the Western Hemisphere free from hostile agents of foreign influence. We must have secure borders to prevent Iranian operatives from entering the U.S. It is unconscionable that we should let Iran use Latin American countries as a base to prepare for potential attacks against the U.S. homeland. Iran poses an incalculable risk to the safety of the U.S. homeland. Our duty is to ensure we provide for the defense of this country, and the American people expect no less. I ask for your support of this legislation.