Amid global tumult, vigilance on Iran is critical

Amid global tumult, vigilance on Iran is critical

Six months ago, coverage on the average evening news program was focused largely on domestic issues: the job market, the stock market, Congressional elections, and healthcare.

Coverage of foreign affairs, including the ongoing war in Afghanistan, was limited.

You may recall that President Barack Obama’s prime time announcement that combat missions in Iraq were ending came and went with little fanfare.

This stands in stark contrast to news coverage in recent weeks. Even as the federal government sat on the precipice of a shut-down over a budget standoff, headlines were dominated by international matters.

Unrest in the Middle East has reached historic proportions.

Commentators have marveled at the rapid pace of revolutionary protests that have spread from Tunisia to Egypt, Bahrain and beyond. In Libya, the United States joined with an international coalition to intervene between Moammar Gadhafi and the civilian protestors.

The only thing we can be sure of is that the future of the region is uncertain.

Add to this mix the horrible tragedy in Japan. That nation is beginning to recover from a natural disaster bearing a price tag two times that of Hurricane Katrina, yet the emerging danger is nuclear contamination with the potential to prolong and intensify the public health crisis.

As the United States and our international allies stretch our military and diplomatic corps to address these matters, it is easy to put our efforts to curtail Iranian nuclear enrichment programs on the back-burner. Yet our resolve as global leaders in the effort to isolate Iran until it desists in its dangerous program of nuclear proliferation remains critical.

The threat that Iran’s enrichment program poses to the prospect of long term stability in the Middle East cannot be understated. Iran is identified by the U.S. Department of State as a State-sponsor of terrorism, including groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Accelerated long range missile testing and nuclear activities with no civilian purpose lead to the inevitable conclusion that the country is attempting to develop nuclear weapons.

Rather than approach these facts with a policy aimed at conciliation with the international community, the Iranian government continues to deny access to its development sites to U.N. officials and inspection teams from the International Atomic Energy Agency. These global agencies have dedicated significant resources to pressing the Iranian government for greater transparency; resources that have been stretched thin by the explosions and resulting contamination surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Tokyo.

The United States has taken important steps in recent years to give teeth to our foreign policy and national security objectives in Iran, but more needs to be done. That is why I recently joined with Assemblywoman Mila M. Jasey to introduce Assembly Concurrent Resolution (ACR) 173, which urges the federal government to take additional action to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Last summer President Obama signed comprehensive bi-partisan legislation that would penalize companies that support Iran’s petroleum sector. This law was a step in the right direction, but as U.S. Supreme Court Justices John Paul Stevens and Sandra Day O’Connor famously pointed out in a campaign finance case, “money, like water, will always find an outlet.” If our sanctioning strategy is to succeed, constant vigilance is required.

I was encouraged by a bipartisan bill introduced in February by our neighboring U.S. Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) which would eliminate loopholes that allow U.S. companies to invest in Iran’s energy sector.

The Iran Transparency and Accountability Act is one in a series of measures that have been working their way through Congress to strengthen last year’s sanctions. It is exactly the type of action that we are urging in ACR 173. I hope that additional steps, including the sanctioning of the Central Bank of Iran and the limiting of access to refined petroleum products will be joined to our diplomatic attempts to bring Iran into compliance with global security goals.

A nuclear-armed Iran poses a real threat to the United States and our allies in the Middle East, particularly Israel. The disaster in Japan could not have been avoided – but a nuclear arms race in the Middle East can. Let us renew our resolve and stand together to urge greater federal action to prevent the development of nuclear weapons in Iran.

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