Iranby Representative Earl Blumenauer
Posted on 2013-11-19
BLUMENAUER. Mr. Speaker, in an era of violence in the Middle
East, tragedy in Syria, and turmoil in Egypt, there is some very
encouraging news surrounding Iran.
The most important signal may have been the election of Hassan Rouhani as President of Iran who is by no means a moderate by anyone's stretch of the imagination except in the context of Iran. He was the choice of the Iranian people for change, for a different path to reduce the collision course with the United States and the crippling sanctions we have imposed. His foreign minister, Mohammad Zarif, is an able and experienced diplomat with strong relationships with the people who have dealt with him for years both in the United States and Iran.
I am encouraged by the reports in the news and in the opinion pages which point out something I have long argued on the floor of this House: the convergence of interests between the United States and Iran.
People forget the key role that the United States played in the emergence of the modern state of Iran, of the constitutional revolution beginning in 1905, where American influence was profoundly felt. Unfortunately, for the last 60 years, we have serially mismanaged our relationship with Iran.
How would we have felt if a foreign power worked to overthrow our democratically elected government and install a dictator? That is exactly what the United States and Great Britain did in 1953 and how the Shah returned to power.
It is amazing that the majority of Iranians still has positive feelings towards the United States, which they do. People forget the alignment of interests between the United States and Iran after 9/11 that led them to help us deal with post-Taliban Afghanistan. In the capitals of some of our supposed allies in the Middle East, people were cheering on that tragedy. On 9/11, people in Tehran were standing in solidarity with Americans. This, of course, was before George Bush recklessly included them in his infamous ``axis of evil'' pronouncement. The Iranian people are distinct from the Arabs and are proud of their Persian heritage, stretching back thousands of years.
Iran is an important part of any ultimate solution in stabilizing Iraq and in resolving the Syrian conflict. Yes, they have advanced nuclear development, and we rightly should be deeply concerned with their pursuit of nuclear weapons. That is why one of the Obama administration's greatest foreign policy triumphs has been to marshal support of the world for this stringent, comprehensive regime of sanctions. It has made a huge difference--driving down the value of their currency, depleting their foreign reserves, and creating extreme inflationary pressures on their economy.
Now is the time to see if a solution can be developed. It is decidedly not the time to ratchet up sanctions even further. Nothing would undercut the more moderate forces in Iran, and more pressure could be very counterproductive because we are at risk of sanctions fatigue by our partners. Other countries that do not share our same policy positions and deep hostility towards the Iranians have gone along with sanctions. To expect that countries like China, India, and Russia are going to follow us with even more extreme sanctions and turn their backs on the progress is questionable at best. At worst, it would end up losing support for the sanctions regime we have now, would strengthen the hand of the hard-liners who do hate America, and would set back long-term prospects for peace, not just for Iran, but for Syria, Iraq, and throughout the Middle East.
Most experts I have encountered feel Iran could have built a nuclear bomb years ago, but they didn't. Recently, they have slowed the pace of their nuclear activities and have been open to proposals unthinkable a year ago. The rush to undercut the process is shortsighted, counterproductive, and it risks accelerating the development of Iranian nuclear weapons.
Now is the time to accelerate diplomacy, not to walk away. It is decidedly not the time for the United States Congress to throw a monkey wrench in the diplomatic procedures and to ratchet up sanctions. We can always reimpose sanctions, but may not be able to recreate this diplomatic opportunity.