WASHINGTON – Top State Department officials and members of Congress debated how best to deal with Iran at a hearing Wednesday,disagreeing over Russia's role and whether sanctions will work to prevent the country from obtaining a nuclear bomb.
Rep. Tom Lantos,D-Calif.,commenting on Russia's proposal to enrich Iran's uranium on Russian soil,said giving Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “apparatchiks” this control would be the same as “putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.”
“Russia is number one enabler,supporter and investor in Iran's nuclear program,” Lantos said.
“This state,run by wildly irrational terrorists,simply cannot be allowed to possess the ultimate weapon of terror,” Lantos said.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher,R-Calif.,said the U.S. has been too cautious and recommended being “aggressive” with Iran.
Rep. Ron Paul,R-Texas,urged caution. “Maybe we do too much too fast,and maybe we ought to just sit back and cool off a little bit rather than going out and looking for the next place where we can send more troops,” he said.
Nicholas Burns,undersecretary for political affairs at the State Department,said U.S. policy toward the Islamic country “is sufficiently tough,as it should be.”
He told the House International Relations Committee that Iran has the right to have peaceful nuclear power,but not the right to have nuclear weapons.
Burns was joined by Robert Joseph,undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security at State Department.
During the three-hour hearing,committee members heard the two officials' report,asked questions about Iran's nuclear weapons capability and expressed their views on how the U.S. and the world should deal with the Islamic country.
The hearing took place during a week when Vice President Dick Cheney warned Iran of “meaningful consequences” if it continues its nuclear program,and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened the U.S. with “harm and pain” if the United Nations places sanctions on the country.
Lantos said Iran's “senior leaders driven by bloodthirsty fanaticism” seek to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons and that “if any leader anyplace still doubts Iran's ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons,he is in urgent need of medical attention.”
“No time to lose – nuclear arms will seriously destabilize the region,” Lantos said.
To stop Iran's “single-minded quest” for nuclear weapons,he proposed to “squeeze the country's economy” as much as possible and “do so without delay.”
However,not all of the committee members shared his view. Paul said the U.S. is “playing the policeman of the world” and that “it has not been beneficial.”
He quoted Mohamed ElBaradei,director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency,and said Iran “has never been ruled in violation of its international nuclear nonproliferation obligation.”
Burns agreed that it would be better to isolate the “autocratic regime” that is repressing people rather than “engage directly.” He called Iran the “central banker of the major terrorist groups” and said it “clearly pursues” nuclear capability to “dominate in the Middle East.”
Burns said these factors are “the totality of the threat” Iran poses to American interests and its allies around the world.
Joseph said that the biggest achievement of U.S. foreign policy toward Iran over the last 12 months was “broadening the group of countries” who are standing with the U.S.
“The Europeans are solidly with us. Japan and Australia are with us. But most importantly,India has voted twice with the United States and the IAEA against Iran. And now Russia and China have done so,” Joseph said.
Members discussed how to get the U.S. message to Iranians,and how the U.S. and other countries should “plant roots of democracy,of independent journalism,of civil society into Iran.”
Burns said he hopes Congress will support Secretary Condoleezza Rice and the president’s $75 million supplemental request to “open up our ability to connect with average Iranian citizens.”
He said $50 million would go to expand American TV and radio broadcasts into Iran through Voice of America and Radio Farda,which is funded by the U.S. government.
“We want to connect with the Iranian people. We don’t want to be so blunt in our approach that we penalize innocent Iranians for the sins of their government,” Burns said.
Rep. Ted Poe,R-Texas,supported the State Department's request for $5 million to bring Iranian high school and university students to study in the U.S.
“We’d like to have exchanges … among union officials,among teachers,among average citizens,” Burns said.
However,the State Department officials said threat is imminent. Joseph said that according to the intelligence community assessment,“Iran is approximately five to 10 years away from a nuclear weapons capability.”