March 12, 2003

Few captive peoples have so regularly demonstrated their love for democracy and freedom as have the Iranians. They routinely protest against their tyrannical regime in demonstrations numbering in the tens of thousands. In election after election since 1997, until last week, Iranians went to the polls to demonstrate their democratic dreams, and they voted in overwhelming numbers for the most liberal candidates that the un-selected clerical regime allows to run -- until last week.

Last week something changed. Conservatives won nationwide municipal elections --  not because they're more popular but because reformists stayed at home. Voter participation fell dramatically. After six years of dashed dreams, most Iranians have given up on the reformers.

Yet we know that the Iranian people want secular democracy, and they want close ties with the United States, they are crying out for change, and they deserve America's support. With our resolution, we want the Iranians to know we hear them and we support them.

The extremist clergy that dominate Iran knows their days are numbered. They are unpopular, and they're frightened, so they try to snuff out any meaningful free _expression. They close newspapers, they use vigilante groups, and they sentence thoughtful dissidents to death.  They arrest anyone who does not embrace the regime's rigidly ideological and viciously anti-American line, including journalists and parliamentarians.

Like the reformers in Iran, we in the United States was once heartened by President Khatami's election six years ago. We repeatedly extended a hand to the Islamic Republic of Iran.  The Clinton Administration lifted the embargo on Iranian caviar and carpets, and I myself offered to lead a Congressional delegation to Iran.

But the official Iranian response to these overtures has been a clenched fist.  In the five years since Khatami was elected, the same offensive and dangerous behavior that previously characterized Iranian regime policy towards its citizens and its neighbors has continued.

It is now time to acknowledge that the results are in. There will be no meaningful liberalization in Iran under this regime.  This regime will continue to deny political and social freedom and repress women. This regime will continue to spend its resources not on helping its people, but on developing the greatest threats the world faces today - international terrorism and development of weapons of mass destruction.

As International Atomic Energy Agency inspections last month confirmed, Iran is proceeding apace with the development of nuclear arms. The most recent revelations show that Iran may be producing enriched uranium within three years and is building a heavy water reactor. If any state in the world is energy-sufficient, it's Iran.  Nobody need doubt why Iran is developing a nuclear capability.  It is to obtain nuclear arms.

I was in Russia just a few days ago, and I raised these issues directly with Russia's minister of atomic energy, Alexander Rumyanstev.  His views are most sobering. 

This clerical regime will continue unabatedly to undermine the interests of the US and our regional allies -- whether supporting anti-US tribal leaders in Afghanistan, shipping fifty tons of arms to the Palestinian Authority, blowing up Jewish institutions in Argentina, training and funding Hizbullah, or directing Islamic terrorism in Turkey.

At long last, the Argentine judiciary has indicted significant Iranian officials for the 1994 bombing of the Jewish center in Buenos Aires, which left 85 innocent men, women, and children dead. I urge them to indict more senior Iranian officials, including Khamenei and Rafsanjani, as the Argentine prosecutor has urged and as the evidence warrants. Let the people of Argentina know that the United States will stand stalwartly with them in resisting the threats Tehran has already started issuing in the wake of this important judicial action. 

Finally, let me add a further warning against Iranian aggression. The Iranian regime should be wise enough not to interfere if U.S. troops enter Iraq, whether in northern Iraq or elsewhere in Iraq. Iranian leaders should know that would be a terrible mistake.

With the resolution that my colleagues and I are introducing today, the American people will send the unmistakable message that they have lost all hope that this ugly theocracy could change.  At the same time, we stand four-square, in solidarity and respect, with the Iranian people in their quest for true freedom and secular democracy.  Whatever hopes any of us may once have harbored for Iran's ruling regime are thoroughly dashed but our belief in and support for the Iranian people remains unshaken.


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