07.01.10

Securing America: President Obama and Nuclear Weapons

CONGRESSMAN ADAM B. SCHIFF
OF CALIFORNIA
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Mr. Speaker, the recent vote in the United Nations Security Council to impose a new round of tougher economic sanctions on Iran was a significant national security success for the United States, and part of President Obama's broader push to reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism or accidental nuclear exchange.

For years there has been a broad consensus that a terrorist attack with a nuclear weapon is the gravest threat facing our country. During the 2004 Presidential debates, both Senator John Kerry and President Bush pointed to such an attack as the ultimate nightmare scenario. Unfortunately, the prior administration failed to make nonproliferation a priority and blocked any progress at the 2005 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, putting the international nonproliferation regime at risk.

President Obama came into office pledging to make nuclear nonproliferation a priority, and he has delivered on multiple fronts: First, by increasing American and international pressure on Iran; and second, by working with Russia and others to reduce both countries' stockpiles of nuclear weapons and material.

The Iran resolution, one of the most important to emerge from the Security Council in years, is a triumph for American diplomacy. When the President took office last January, the United States was diplomatically isolated, and unwilling to engage in the hard work of diplomacy that would pressure Iran to engage seriously with the international community. But that has now changed.

The U.N. resolution increases the pressure on Iran to abandon its quest for nuclear weapons by expanding the list of organizations and individuals subject to financial restrictions and travel bans. And significantly, it also prevents and prohibits most conventional arms sales to Iran, a major step considering that veto-wielding Russia and China have been Iran's major arms suppliers for years.

While Iran has remained outwardly defiant in the wake of the June 9 resolution, the U.N. resolution was quickly followed by a fresh round of European Union sanctions, and by our passage of the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act, which was signed into law today by President Obama. These new sanctions have had an immediate effect. Just days after Congress passed the legislation, France's Total, the last major Western energy company dealing with Iran, announced that it would stop providing refined petroleum to Tehran, while South Korea's GS Engineering and Construction canceled a $1.2 billion gas project in Iran.

The stakes are clear. If Tehran's nuclear weapons program were to bear fruit, elements of the Iranian regime could divert a weapon or materials to a terrorist group under its control, perhaps Hamas or Hezbollah. An Iranian bomb could also trigger a nuclear arms race in the world's most volatile region. This cannot be allowed to happen. And President Obama and this Congress are determined that it shall not happen.

The last 2 years have also seen a revitalization of our efforts to assert American leadership in nuclear nonproliferation. President Obama was the leader in the Senate on nuclear terrorism and nonproliferation issues. I had the pleasure of working with him then to strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency's inspection program. Now as President, we are again working together, and the President recently signed legislation that I authored to develop our nuclear forensic capability.

The President has also proposed budgets that significantly increase investment in nonproliferation efforts and technologies. He understands we can't face this threat alone. There are 50 tons of unsecured nuclear material around the world. And to succeed in bringing it under lock and key, we must convince many Nations that this is a security risk for all.

Last September, the President led an extraordinary meeting of the Security Council to bring nuclear security the worldwide attention it needs. And this April he hosted the largest summit meeting that America has ever seen to convince world leaders that this is not only an important problem, but an urgent one. The summit produced a worldwide consensus to secure nuclear materials around the world within 4 years, a groundbreaking plan that the administration and Congress are now implementing.

On April 8, President Obama signed a treaty with Russia to cut nuclear weapons by 30 percent. This too is a crucial step forward. By working with Russians to reduce their arsenals and ours, we remove unthinkably dangerous weapons from high alert, and demonstrate that building nuclear weapons is not a sign of a world power; getting rid of them is.

There is much work yet to be done. But President Obama and the leadership in Congress have clearly returned the issue of nonproliferation to the center of the policy debate, where it belongs.