PROSPECTS FOR CHANGE IN IRAN -- HON. ROBERT MENENDEZ (Extension of Remarks - June 03, 1998)

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HON. ROBERT MENENDEZ

in the House of Representatives

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 3, 1998

I want to thank the National Council of Resistance of Iran for organizing this event and for their ongoing efforts to focus attention on the rogue regime that continues to reside in Tehran under President Khatami.

Each of us here today, looks forward to the day when Iran rejoins the community of democratic nations. However, today is not that day. President Khatami, while slightly more moderate than his predecessor will not or cannot overcome the political forces in Iran which avidly pursue the development of weapons of mass destruction and continue support for terrorism.

We have heard many disturbing facts and figures, about Iranian human rights violations, about chaos and conflict within the country, and about Iran's support of international terrorist organizations, such as Hizballah, Hamas and the Palestine Islamic Jihad, all of which are responsible for terrorist attacks on Israel. Each of these facts reflects the ruling regime's status as a rogue state, which considers itself above international law, with little respect for human life, let alone human rights. The prospect of that regime armed with nuclear weapons is not a pleasant one.

Just this week, Russia and Iran announced that over the strong objections of the U.S. and Israel, that they would be stepping up their cooperation in the field of nuclear technology. In fact, Iran's Atomic Energy Minister made it clear that the two countries are considering further cooperation beyond their current project to build a nuclear power plant in Iran.

To give you a little background, Iran has been seeking nuclear power since the early 1970's, when the Shah attempted to build two reactors in Bushehr. The project, begun by a German company in 1974, was suspended following the 1979 Revolution. The clerical regime's efforts to obtain nuclear capability began in earnest in the midst of the Iran-Iraq War, in 1985, and in February of this year, Tehran announced its intention to construct two Russian reactors in Bushehr.

The question remains, why has Iran devoted such colossal resources, money and effort to build the Bushehr power plant. Iran claims to need the Bushehr nuclear reactors to supply energy to the country. Yet, Iran's immense oil and natural gas reserves call into question its motives for constructing expensive nuclear reactors. Iran has 9.3 percent of the world's oil reserves and natural gas reserves, second only to Russia. Clearly, Iran does not need additional energy sources, nor is nuclear energy an economic choice for Iran. So what is the motive?

It should not be a revelation to anyone that Iran is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.

In 1991, Ayatollah Mohajerani, one of Rafsanjani's deputies, clarified the need to obtain nuclear weapons. `Since the enemy has nuclear facilities,' he said, `Islamic countries must be armed with the same capacity.'

In 1989, Rafsanjani underscored the need to obtain an atomic arsenal, stressing that `Iran cannot overlook the reality of nuclear strength in the modern world.' Nuclear arms, in the Tehran mullahs' view, are `the most important strategic guarantee' of their survival.

For this reason, I introduced the Iran Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act. The bill will eliminate the use of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the International Atomic Energy Agency to provide assistance to Iran for the completion of the Bushehr plant. The U.S. believes that the completion of the Bushehr plant could provide Iran with substantial expertise to advance its nuclear weapons program. It is ludicrous for the U.S. to support a plant--even indirectly--which could pose a threat to the United States and to stability in the Middle East.

Beyond, Iran's nuclear weapons development program, there is substantial evidence of its efforts to develop other weapons of mass destruction.

Late last year, Satellite reconnaissance of the Shahid Hemat Industrial Group research facility, not far south of Tehran, had picked up the heat signature of an engine test for a new generation of Iranian ballistic missiles, `each capable of carrying a 2,200-lb. warhead more than 800 miles,' within strategic range of Israel.

In January, a senior Clinton administration official told the Associated Press that `Iran's purchase of Russian missile technology is giving Iran an opportunity to `leap ahead' in developing new weapons' and according to a CIA report, Iran remains the largest illicit buyer of conventional weapons among `pariah' states, buying an estimated $20 million to $30 million worth of U.S. military parts in 1997.

After the cease-fire in the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, Tehran stepped up its efforts to produce an indigenous chemical and biological arsenal. Thanks to equipment and technology legally or illegally imported from abroad, the Tehran regime is presently able to produce a series of biological and chemical weapons. Defense Secretary Cohen has expressed concern that Iran may have produced up to 200 tons of VX nerve agent and 6,000 gallons of anthrax.

Tehran's unrelenting quest for nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles clearly attests that the clerical regime has no intention of moderating its behavior. Appeasement by the West will only provide the mullahs with more room to maneuver. We need a comprehensive policy, that both protects us from the current threat and safeguards our future interests in that part of the world.

Firmness is the only means of deterring Khatami and the clerical regime from their quest for an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. We must make it clear, especially now when the mullahs may well be on their last legs, that we support the kind of progress towards democracy and genuine reform promised by the democratic opposition.

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