***VIDEO RELEASE*** Menendez Speaks in Support of Iran Protests, Calls on President to Hold Iranian Regime Accountable

***VIDEO RELEASE*** Menendez Speaks in Support of Iran Protests, Calls on President to Hold Iranian Regime Accountable

   

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J), senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, took to the U.S. Senate Floor today to discuss the anti-regime protests in Iran and the need for the government in Tehran to respect the human rights and freedom of expression of its people. The Senator also called out the Trump Administration for failing to fully implement critical provisions of the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act by failing to present Congress with a sound policy to counter Iran’s nefarious behavior.

 

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Senator Menendez’s remarks follow:

“I rise today as brave citizens in Iran are taking to the streets to exercise their fundamental right to freely express their opinions and protest against their government. As a democracy founded on core values including the freedom of speech, equal rights under the law, and basic human dignity, the United States must always stand up for those peacefully advocating for these principles.

“For decades, America has championed these principles not only because they are right – but because they are promote our interests.  We know that nations whose governments respect human rights and freedom of expression, that uphold the rule of law, that protect the civil rights and liberties of their people.  These nations serve as America’s most reliable allies, most strategic security relationships, and most prosperous economic partners.

“Our enduring belief in democratic values compels all of us to stand up – not as Democrats or Republicans but as Americans – and support citizens around the world courageously protesting the regimes that oppress them.  We stand with those who speak out – and even risk their own lives – to make their voices heard in the struggle against oppression, inequality, and injustice.

“The fact that today’s protests in Iran are against a regime that engages in activity that directly threatens our nation, our allies, and our security interests is a separate matter.  Iran’s leaders may try to blame the protests on outside forces, but in reality, this unrest is homegrown.

“The Iranians marching in Tehran know exactly who is to blame for the economic hardship, inequality, and oppression they face in their daily lives. It is the regime itself.

“For those of us who have closely followed developments in Iran for years, it’s no surprise to learn that the regime continues to disregard the basic rights of its citizens. The regime has proven it has no moral qualms with forcing the innocent to suffer.  Already, security forces are responsible for the deaths of more than 20 Iranian protestors. And they have detained and imprisoned hundreds of people for simply speaking their minds.

“Of course, these abuses are just one example of the consistently odious behavior we’ve witnessed from Iran in recent years. This is a regime that has proven it is more interested in building ballistic missiles than building bridges. A regime that believes money is better spent on terrorist networks in Lebanon and Syria than on schools and hospitals for the Iranian people. A regime that believes any revenue generated by Iran’s international energy deals goes directly into the pockets of those fomenting discord in the region, and not into the hands of Iranian citizens trying to feed their families.  A regime that continues to engage in malign activity that isolates it from the community of nations, directly at the expense of the Iranian people.

“For these reasons and many more, I sincerely hope the international community lives up to its responsibility to support all those protesting this repressive regime.

“However, words only go so far. The United States must continue to lead international efforts to counter the Iranian regime’s destabilizing behavior overseas. But unfortunately, this Administration has yet to take the lead. We’ve heard plenty of bluster from this President.

But threatening tweets do not constitute policy. Nor can they hold Iran accountable. Putting a nation “on notice” means nothing if there are no policies put in place.

“We need a real strategy that addresses Iran’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East, whether it’s the regime’s continued support for terrorist networks, illegal ballistic missile development, or human rights abuses and political interference in other countries.

“These threats are what compelled me to work with my colleagues across the aisle last year to pass the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act. A bill to hold Iran accountable for its ongoing support for terrorism, ballistic missile proliferation, and human rights abuses.

“This legislation passed the Senate with an overwhelming bipartisan majority of 98 to 2,

And ultimately, it served as the base text of the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act, which addressed a wide range of hostile behavior from not just from Iran but Russia and North Korea as well.

“This bill calls for the Administration to develop a comprehensive regional strategy to deter conventional and asymmetric threats. We are fast approaching the deadline for that strategy.

More importantly, however, we have heard the President say for more than a year that he was going to develop a plan to hold Iran accountable. Thus far, we have seen nothing more than tough talk.

“The reality is this Administration has yet to fully implement critical provisions of this law that could substantively counter Iran’s nefarious behavior.   The bill gives the President the authority to target human rights abusers – including those complicit in the ongoing repression of protestors. But he has yet to use that authority.

“The bill also authorizes the President to go after those individuals and entities who are violating international arms embargoes – exporting hateful ideologies and weapons across the region and fomenting violence and chaos against innocent civilians in Syria and Yemen. But he has yet to go after these actors.

“And while the Administration designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps under Terrorism Authority – it has not effectively targeted actors associated with the IRGC.

Look, all of my colleagues know that I was deeply skeptical and strongly opposed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. I voted against the JCPOA precisely because I thought it was a mistake to roll back sanctions on Iran without the total dismantlement of its nuclear infrastructure.

“However, refusing to certify Iran’s compliance with a deeply-flawed deal – as the President did in October – does little to address its shortcomings. The President’s move in October was a hollow attempt to fulfill a campaign promise while continuing to let Iran enjoy the benefits of the JCPOA AND continue its non-nuclear malign activities throughout the region. Furthermore, this decision was carried without a clear path forward and without specific proposals that could have garnered critical international support.

“At the end of the day, the Trump Administration’s actions may have actually left the United States with less leverage to address Iran’s far-reaching nefarious behavior in the Middle East, whether it be its support for terrorism or its human rights abuses or its illegal ballistic missile development. None of these critical security challenges are addressed by simply not certifying the JCPOA. Nor does it move us towards a comprehensive, international strategy for the nuclear program Iran plans to resume immediately following this agreement’s expiration.

“In short, the President’s own lack of policy has squandered whatever leverage he may have hoped to gain.

“Furthermore, the President has severely disadvantaged himself by gutting the very instruments in his national security apparatus that should be taking the lead on Iran and all foreign policy matters.

“As an architect of the sanctions networks that crippled Iran’s economy and forced its leaders to negotiate with the international community, I know how essential our diplomatic arsenal is to confronting Iran.  The President, however, seems committed to hollowing out those agencies and offices that are in the best position to advance our diplomatic interests. 

“The Trump Administration has shuttered the office of sanctions policy at the State Department.

The Office of Foreign Asset Control at the Treasury Department is now woefully understaffed. And as the President publicly talks about supporting democracy, his Administration has scrapped funding for human rights and democracy programs – and even removed the word “democracy” from USAID’s mission statement. Meanwhile, Iran continues to increase its presence in Iraq, maintain support for the terrorist organization Hezbollah, and take credit for Bashar Al-Assad’s murderous grip on power in Syria.

“The United States must be able to work with our allies if we are serious about holding Iran accountable. We should be corralling our allies in Europe to begin treating all of Hezbollah’s entities as a terrorist organization. And again, we should be moving our allies towards the development of a comprehensive international strategy for addressing Iran’s nuclear ambitions once the JCPOA expires.

Finally, this Administration must prioritize the release of American citizens unjustly arrested and detained in Iran. Today, Princeton University student Xiyue Wang – a scholar from one of the most renowned academic institutions in the world in my home state of New Jersey - remains in prison under ridiculous charges of espionage. Similarly, Siamak Namazi, a former student of Rutgers University in New Jersey, remains in prison, along with his father, a former UNICEF employee. And Robert Levinson remains “missing” after more than 10 years.

“In short, this President’s approach towards Iran thus far has been a disjointed mix of campaign promises, bluster, and confusing signals to our allies – not a serious consideration of how to effectively confront an existing and growing threat.  So as we approach a legally mandated deadline for the President to present Congress – and the American people – with a sound policy to confront a real threat.

“I call on the President to make use of our incredible national security establishment; to consult experts who can help formulate a strong, sound policy capable of confronting Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the Middle East; and to implement a strategy that will effectively confront Iran’s continued support for international terrorism. Its belligerent ballistic missile tests; and it’s ongoing, public, and brutal abuses of human rights within its own borders and around the world.”

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