June 12, 2008
Verbatim, as delivered
Chairman Berman’s opening remarks at
hearing, “Russia, Iran and
Nuclear Weapons: Implications of the Proposed U.S.-Russia Agreement”
We’re here this morning to begin to
assess the proposed agreement between the United States and Russian
governments to expand civil nuclear cooperation. One key factor we’ll take into account during
this process is the extent to which Russia
is cooperating with the United States,
the European Union and others to discourage Iran’s development of a nuclear
One of the greatest potential
threats to the security of the United
States and its allies is an Iranian
Bomb. We’ve all heard the crude threats
that President Ahmadinejad makes against Israel, which he repeated as
recently as last week. But Israel’s
not the only state feeling the heat from Tehran’s
Other states in the Middle East are
now, suddenly, interested in developing their own nuclear energy programs,
emulating Iran. I don’t believe this is a pure
coincidence. As we know all too well,
allegedly peaceful nuclear power programs can be used as a cover for the
clandestine development of nuclear weapons.
Not only would a nuclear-armed Tehran have the ability to intimidate other states in ways
that could cripple U.S.
national interests in the region and beyond – it would also effectively end the
global nonproliferation regime.
Unfortunately, we currently face a
situation in which Iran
is enriching uranium faster than sanctions are being applied to stop it.
To date, the multilateral sanctions
imposed on Iran
by the United Nations are woefully inadequate.
They have failed to change Tehran’s
calculation that the benefits of a nuclear weapons capability outweigh the
In other words,
our current policy at this particular point -- and I hope it changes, but at
this particular point -- is not working.
Russia’s role in persuading and pressuring
to cease its dangerous nuclear activities is absolutely crucial. Yet in the past, Moscow has often been the main stumbling block
to tougher sanctions.
While Russia recently has been more
supportive, its commitment to effective international
action remains in question. Just
two weeks ago, Russian Prime Minister Putin publicly declared that there is no
evidence that Iran
is pursuing a nuclear weapons capability; he said this the very same week that
the International Atomic Energy Agency seemed to be moving toward the opposite
It is in this context that the Bush
Administration has signed a new agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation with
Moscow, something that has long been promised
and upon which Russia
places a high value.
The Foreign Affairs Committee
formally received the proposed nuclear cooperation agreement on May 13th. For the record, we are now on Day 19 of the
statutory Congressional review period of 90 continuous days of session.
The agreement will enter into force
if, during this 90-day period, Congress does not enact a joint resolution of
disapproval or approves a resolution of approval with conditions over the
President’s veto. This Committee has
statutory responsibility to review the proposed agreement and report to the
House on whether it should be approved or disapproved. This hearing is an
initial step in that process.
There has already been a significant
amount of commentary on the benefits and drawbacks of this agreement. Its proponents argue that it may encourage Russia to be more forthcoming on tougher
sanctions on Iran; critics
counter that Russia
will do so only if we hold the agreement back as a point of leverage.
Proponents claim this agreement will
allow the U.S. and Russia to work together to create a nuclear fuel bank and
multilateral fuel assurances to reduce incentives for countries, like Iran, to
develop their own uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing plants, that
can make fuel for reactors or bombs. Critics respond that these things can be
done now without this agreement.
Advocates claim that this agreement
will allow greater cooperation with Russia to develop proliferation-resistant
reprocessing methods to extract useful uranium and plutonium from spent reactor
fuel with minimal risk of diversion to military ends. Opponents charge that any
reprocessing is dangerous, and efforts to expand reprocessing globally will inevitably
encourage other states to start their own reprocessing efforts. To the extent that the Russia
cooperation agreement assists this effort, opponents charge, it actually works
against nonproliferation efforts to reduce the amount of plutonium available
for nuclear weapons.
We’re going hear from several
distinguished witnesses, whom I will introduce individually, and the Committee
is asking all of you to address all aspects of this agreement, including its
relative value for promoting greater cooperation in U.S. nuclear nonproliferation goals
And we are particularly interested
in the degree to which Russia
is cooperating with U.S.
nonproliferation and sanctions policy toward Iran. As you know, for years there have been
reports and rumors of Russian entities conducting WMD-related business in Iran. We want to hear whether, to your knowledge,
this cooperation has ceased -- and what assurances, if any, Moscow has given our government.
Further, I want our witnesses to
tell us whether this proposed agreement advances or undermines U.S. efforts to pressure Iran to halt
its uranium enrichment and other activities that could support a nuclear
weapons program. Does the United States have more leverage over Russian
polices and behavior toward Iran
by bringing this proposed agreement into force now? Or could we gain leverage by delaying
its implementation, or by insisting on Presidential certifications regarding
Russian behavior before it can be implemented?
Today’s hearing is meant to address
these and other questions. But in our
limited time, let me offer up the single most important issue of all, with
respect to nuclear cooperation with Russia: In light of the potential threat
posed by a nuclear-armed Iran, has Moscow been a good enough partner in helping
us bring Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons to a halt -- and if not, shouldn’t
we make this goal the highest priority in our relations with Russia from this