Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Ackerman Uses HFAC Hearing to Present Case on H.Con.Res. 362

In the House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing held today on "U.S. Policy Towards Iran" with Undersecretary of State William Burns, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) used the opportunity to make a statement on H.Con.Res. 362. Below is the full text of his prepared statement.

July 9, 2008
U.S. Policy Towards Iran and H. Con. Res. 362

Thank you Mr. Chairman for calling today’s hearing. I want to welcome Undersecretary Burns back before the committee although I’m sure we are happier to have him back than he is to be back.

Mr. Chairman, in a region that contains crises of varying degrees everywhere you look, Iran still stands out as a significant threat to regional stability and U.S. national interests. It’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, its desire to interfere with and undermine legitimately elected governments in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories and its arming of Shia militias in Iraq or warlords in Afghanistan all speak to the need for the international community and the United States to confront Iran’s regional ambitions in a significant and coordinated way. That’s why, last year, the House has passed legislation to tighten sanctions on Iran’s oil sector and to encourage divestment in companies that do business in Iran. These efforts are designed to convince Iran to abandon both its efforts to develop nuclear weapons and its support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. In short, sanctions measures are an attempt to avoid war, not to start it.

So it is with puzzlement that I find that some have described a non-binding resolution that I have introduced, along with Mr. Pence and cosponsored by a majority of the House, urging the President to “increase economic, political and diplomatic pressure on Iran.” They describe that as a resolution declaring war and calling for a naval blockade. Nothing could be further from the truth or my intent. So I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify what H.Con.Res. 362 does and does not do.

First, it is a concurrent resolution. As my colleagues know, it doesn't get presented to the President, and it doesn't get signed, and it thus does not either become law or have the force of law. It's the sense of Congress. Assertions that the resolution constitutes a declaration of war are just absurd.

Second, the final whereas clause of the resolution states as explicitly as the English language will allow "Whereas nothing in this resolution shall be construed as an authorization of the use of force against Iran.” Since a naval blockade is by definition the use of force, the language of this resolution renders the prospect of a naval blockade simply out of the question. This resolution should not be the straw man that some would seek.

Third, the resolution calls on the President to "initiate an international effort to immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on Iran.” To point out the obvious, there is no mention of military pressure, much less a blockade and the effort the President is called upon to make is international and diplomatic, not unilateral and military.

Fourth, the resolution calls for the President to seek the international community's support for an export ban on refined petroleum, not a blockade. Iran does not export refined petroleum products, it imports them. Therefore an export ban on refined petroleum would be enforced by customs inspectors and export administrators on the territories of the exporting nations, not in the Persian Gulf. This method is already in use by the international community, including the United States to enforce the four existing UN Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran.

Fifth, the resolution calls for the President to seek the international community's support for inspections of everything going into or coming out of Iran. This step, like the petroleum export ban, neither mandates nor requires a naval blockade to be put into effect. The inspections called for would be done at ports of embarkation and disembarkation, not by blockade.

Lastly, Mr. Chairman, the whole idea that the resolution calls for a blockade can only be sustained by a determined refusal to read the resolution, or to accept the plain meaning of the words within it. Put simply, the only way to find a blockade or a declaration of war in the text of H.Con.Res. 362 is to insert them by the amending power of imagination alone.

I thank the Chairman for calling today’s hearing and I look forward to listening to our witness.

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