Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Congressional Hearings Target Middle East

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Congressional Hearings Target Middle East

Article excerpt

Congressional Hearings Target Middle East


Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Sam Brownback held hearings April 17 and May 6 on the proliferation of arms sales to Iran. At the April hearing, Brownback's objective apparently was to establish first that, in spite of previous congressional efforts, Iran has been successful in getting a variety of sophisticated conventional weapons, as well as chemical and nuclear technology and, in some cases, material; and second that the administration had avoided applying the sanctions already enacted by Congress. However, what the heating actually accomplished was to affirm what most people already know: unilateral sanctions are clumsy and ineffective and, without the cooperation of its friends and allies, the U.S. cannot by itself prevent Iran from acquiring sophisticated weapons.

Witnesses included Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-NY), Acting Assistant Secretary of State David Welch, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Proliferation Robert Einhorn, former CIA Director James Woolsey, and Leonard Spector, director of the nuclear non-proliferation project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In his opening statement, Brownback pointed out that only twice "in recent memory" has President Clinton invoked the laws passed by Congress to sanction countries selling missile or nuclear weapons technology to Iran, and that neither case involved either Russia or China, the two main offenders.

D'Amato aimed most of his fire at "our allies [who] are providing Iran and Libya with the hard currency enabling them to fund their aggression and are contributing to the menace of terrorism." He warned the administration about the recently concluded agreement with the European Union regarding the implementation of the HelmsBurton Act (sanctions on Cuba) and the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act. He pointed out that the agreement says the U.S. will work with the EU toward granting EU countries and companies waivers under the provisions of the Act. He cautioned the administration that "any suggestion that the European Union should be granted a blanket waiver without following the stipulations of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act is a mistake."

Welch acknowledged that the non-proliferation and sanctions acts already passed by Congress have had little tangible impact on Iran. However he belittled the European approach of "dialogue" with Iran and expressed the hope that Europeans eventually would follow U.S. leadership to enact "measures that impose a tangible cost on Iran."

Neither D'Amato nor Welch seemed to care that D'Amato's aggressiveness and the administration's preachiness (which so enraged Europe and Japan at the Denver summit) would be seen as arrogance in Europe, and would be unlikely to achieve the intended result.

The second, May 6, heating was entitled "The Arming of Iran: Who is Responsible?" It was obvious that Brownback had already decided the answer was Russia and China, and had invited a group of three distinguished experts to provide the details: Dr. Gary Bertsch, director of the Center for International Trade and Security at the University of Georgia; Dr. Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control; and Dr. Seth Cams from the National Defense University in Washington, DC. Although the three witnesses provided details of various Russian, Chinese and North Korean arms sales and technology transfers to Iran, they disagreed over the advisability of further sanctions, especially unilateral sanctions.

Administration officials were invited to participate, but declined. Brownback implicitly supplied the reason for this in his opening statement, saying "it is little wonder the Europeans pay the U.S. no heed on what to do about Iran. They see us pushing our own companies around, but continuing to coddle" Russia and China. "The message we are sending could not be clearer: cutting off Iran's access to arms and weapons of mass destruction is less important to us than maintaining good relations with Russia and China. …

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