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Amid the media firestorm over Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s annual propaganda turn on the world stage addressing the UN General Assembly, let’s not lose sight of the need to get tougher on Iran.
The Iranian regime’s foreign and military policies present an existential threat to Israel, the region, and the rest of the world.
Iran is aggressively arming and training Hamas and Hizbullah, groups intent on destroying Israel.
For years, the Iranian regime, by its interference in that country, has attempted to undermined American efforts to build a stable Iraq.
And despite Ahmadinejad’s protestations otherwise, Iran’s nuclear ambitions advance by the day.
I had the privilege of visiting Israel this month to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his top military and intelligence advisers. We discussed a wide range of issues, particularly the threat posed by Iran.
After these discussions, my conviction has only grown that the global community must come together to stop Iran’s nuclear program and growing negative influence in the region.
Today, because of Iran, Hizbullah has rockets that can threaten Ben Gurion Airport, and Hamas possesses specialized Iranian rockets designed to be smuggled through tunnels into Gaza. Iran’s support has strengthened the ability of these terrorist groups to inflict harm on innocent civilians.
Many experts believe Iran’s capability to launch a nuclear bomb is getting dangerously close, and Iran’s continuing enrichment program increases its ability to intimidate and influence its neighbors. From discussions with Israeli leaders, it is clear that a nuclear Iran not only threatens Israel, our great friend and ally in the Middle East, but could incite a nuclear arms race in the Gulf resulting in a nuclear weapon or dirty bomb in the hands of terrorists.
A nuclear Iran cannot be tolerated.
Ahmadinejad and other leaders have lost significant legitimacy following broad-based election protests. The ruling Iranian regime has formed a government despite popular unrest. I see two possible courses for the regime: it will seek to bridge divisions with the international community or it will hasten the country’s nuclear enrichment path.
In recent weeks, we have only seen more stall tactics from Iran – attempts to deflect attention from the nuclear program and focus on a variety of economic, political and other international issues.
The permanent UN Security Council members have agreed to meet with Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili on October 1. While these talks should proceed, we cannot condone additional delays allowing for the continuation of Iran’s efforts to build military nuclear capabilities.
As Ahmadinejad takes the stage this week, it is important for the global community to move forward on a plan to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
First, we need to back President Obama’s efforts to engage Iran. I support the president’s decision to change course from the previous administration’s unilateral foreign policy approach, which undermined our ability to successfully engage our allies and address the threat of a militarily nuclear Iran.
America’s sincere invitation to Iran gave the regime an opportunity to rebuild its international standing and lawfully engage in a civilian nuclear program that would address its economic needs. Having strengthened again the Western alliance, the U.S. is now in a position to forge international pressure on Iran to live up to its obligations.
Second, we must combine engagement with increased sanctions. Congress needs to provide the president with all the tools necessary to combine tough sanctions with diplomacy to head off the Iranian threat. The Senate has had over six hearings on the subject of Iran this year.
But we must also take concrete action. We should pass the Iran Refined Petroleum Act, which targets companies that assist Iran’s petroleum refining capacity, and the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act, which would protect our state and local governments as they divest from companies that invest in Iran’s energy sector.
Because Iran lacks the ability to refine its internal oil and gas resources, its economy depends on importing refined petroleum and bringing in foreign companies to build domestic refining capacity. In fact, Iran imports approximately 40 percent of its refined petroleum needs.
Without cheap oil, Iran cannot fix its serious economic problems. Passing these new, tough sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector would give America needed leverage to convince the Iranian regime to temper its nuclear ambitions.
Third, the U.S. must work strategically with Russia and China, the two UN Security Council members that have been most reluctant to impose sanctions. Gaining their cooperation with respect to Iran will make America and the world safer.
I support President Obama’s decision to abandon plans championed by the previous administration to build a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, particularly if the decision moves Russia to end its sales of weapons to Iran, cease its development of Iranian gas fields and nuclear facilities, and support increased sanctions as a way to end Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
And we should, together with our allies, find ways to help China address its energy needs without investing in Iran.
My hope is that President Ahmadenijad’s visit will inspire American officials to take these proactive steps immediately. Certainly, the safety of Israel, the United States and the world depends on it.
About the Author: Kirsten E. Gillibrand, a Democrat, is a U.S. senator from New York.
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