WASHINGTON – Today during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) questioned U.S. State Department Undersecretary for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon about funding for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA is responsible for monitoring Iran’s nuclear program under the terms of the agreement reached last summer by the United States, five other global powers, and Iran.
View video of Senator Coons and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon here: http://bit.ly/1UTvPZZ
Read a transcript of the conversation between State Department Undersecretary for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon and Senator Coons below:
Senator Coons: Ambassador Shannon, thank you for your testimony here today. Broadly speaking I continue to be glad that Iran has taken critical steps to restrain its nuclear weapons program as mandated by the JCPOA to limit its ability to quickly develop a nuclear weapon and I applaud the Administration for sanctioning for both individuals and entities involved in cyber-attacks against the United States in 2011 and 2013.
I’m pleased that you’ve worked closely with our international partners over three recent incidents to interdict Iranian weapon shipments bound for the Houthi Rebels in Yemen in the Arabian Sea, and I urge continued thoroughness and vigor in the enforcement of all the different mechanisms we have for preventing the Iranians from continuing to project power in the region.
But I remain deeply concerned that Iran continues to expand its influence in the Middle East and increase support for its terrorist proxies. Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests, which I know have been discussed at length at this hearing today, contradict its commitments under UN Security Council Resolution 2231, and I think demonstrate that the nuclear deal will not change Iran’s behavior at least in the short run and Iran remains unready to meet the obligations required of a responsible member of the international community.
I remain disturbed Iran continues to flagrantly violate the human rights of the Iranian people and has increased the pace of arrests and executions of political prisoners. I believe that if we fail to hold Iran accountable for these actions and fail to respond to violations of the JCPOA, even minor violations, that the viability of the nuclear agreement will be in jeopardy.
So while I commend the Administration for its recent actions, I encourage that they continue and I encourage that you enhance the implementation of the nuclear accord while we continue to work together in a bipartisan basis to be vigorous in pressing back on their ballistic missile tests, their support for terrorism and their proxies, and their human rights violations.
Let me start if I could with a question about IAEA funding. A February 2016 GAO report says that IAEA officials have expressed concerns about the reliability of the sustained extra budgetary contributions for JCPOA enforcement activities due to possible donor fatigue over the long run and in a visit that I made to Vienna to meet with IAEA leadership earlier this year, reinforced those concerns. Does the State Department agree that these are significant concerns and that a failure of the IAEA to have appropriate personnel deployed to take advantage of the search and inspections made possible under the JCPOA matters deeply? And do you believe the U.S. should make a significant proactive and long-term investment to meet the IAEA’s requirements to demonstrate we’re fully committed to enforcing the JCPOA over the long term?
Undersecretary for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon: The short answer is yes. The longer answer is first of all we’re grateful for the GAO report. We have it in draft, and we’re commenting on it. We believe that the IAEA has the resources it needs in the short term through the end of the year to address its responsibilities in terms of compliance verification, but we are continuing to look for ways with our partners to enhance the resources, especially the funding, that the IAEA has at its disposal.
What we are asking the IAEA to do is quite remarkable. It’s an important organization to begin with in terms of non-proliferation and in terms of nuclear security and safety, but we are asking it to take on a role in Iran so intrusive and so interventionist that it will be groundbreaking for it in many ways. Much of it it can do technologically, but much of it is also going to require inspectors on the ground and this is going to require special funding and special training, but we are working with our partners to ensure that the resources are available. We will have a conversation with this Congress to discuss in broader detail where we think additional help would be important.
Senator Coons: Thank you Ambassador. My strong impression is that the IAEA is a thorough, cautious, professional organization, and so they are simply being responsible in not leaping forward to invest in a whole new generation of inspectors, but that’s not what this moment calls for. One of the real positive features of the JCPOA is the opportunity for searching intrusive inspections as you referenced, and nuclear inspectors take a while to train and to deploy and I don’t think we should be penny wise and pound foolish in this area and fail to enthusiastically take advantage of this window and provide robust support to the IAEA.
One other question, earlier this month the UN issued a report showing the number of people executed by the Iranian government skyrocketed to nearly a thousand in 2015, twice as many as in 2010, ten times as many as in 2005. In your testimony you highlight CISADA the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act as a tool to potentially draw attention to and punish Iranian human rights violations; do you believe the CISADA authorities should be expanded in any way in light of Iran’s ongoing human rights abuses?
Undersecretary for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon: First of all, one of our biggest at the beginning of my testimony I noted of the three areas that concern us, one is human rights and because of the situation we see right now and what it means for Iran politically and what it means for Iran going into the future.
When it comes to sanctioning Iranian people and entities for human rights abuses, again we believe we have the authorities, and I realize this an unsatisfactory answer for this committee, but we are happy to engage in a conversation with this committee and with the Senate about what more we can and should be doing to address these issues as we would be in other areas of sanctions as I noted.
Senator Coons: Well I see my time has expired let me just make two comments if I might in closing. I had the chance yesterday to meet with Vitaly Churkin who is Russia’s Ambassador to the United Nations, and he made it clear Russia will block UN Security Council action in response to Iran’s recent multiple ballistic missile tests and I think it’s incumbent on us to work closely together on the legislative branch to ensure that we take greater action to strengthen our unilateral sanctions against Iran’s ballistic missile program.
I’m very concerned about the ongoing debate in this committee and across other committees about the possibility of wider access to the U.S. dollar and U.S. dollar facilities for Iran. I am determined that we make sure that Iran and its efforts to expand its reach in the Middle East and to support terrorism and to finance terrorism is contained appropriately.