(CN) – Lawmakers pressed for enforcement of sanctions against Iran in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Wednesday, where New York’s district attorney, Robert Morgenthau, warned that Iran is making headway in its quest for a nuclear bomb. “It’s later than a lot of people think,” he said.
“We have Iran’s shopping list. We have thousands of records,” Morgenthau told the committee. “People were shocked by the sophistication of the equipment they buy.”
After nearly 30 years of diplomatic isolation for Iran, President Barack Obama’s administration is pursuing direct talks with that country’s government over its quest for long-range missiles and nuclear weapons. But international cooperation and strong sanctions will continue to play an essential role in Iran’s cooperation, said Nicholas Burns, the former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs under President George W. Bush.
“It’s a language they understand,” Burns said, referring to the threat of force. But he added that diplomacy should not be removed from the table. “It could actually work,” he said in a doubtful tone.
In his opening remarks, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the committee chair, noted that sanctions had slowed Iran’s nuclear program but had not stopped that nation from enriching uranium.
Participants at the hearing agreed that international cooperation is needed for successful sanctions, because otherwise companies outside the United States could use resulting trade gaps to increase business.
Lloyds Bank in London recently paid a $350 million fine for helping Iranian banks pass hundreds of millions of dollars to Hamas and Hezbollah, Kerry noted. The bank had stripped Iranian funds of their source of identification, so automated systems in U.S. banks would not investigate and freeze the money.
Adam Kaufman, a New York assistant district attorney, said other banks could do the same thing, and argued that the United States must press other nations to crack down on banks within their jurisdictions.
In another example of the need for international cooperation, Burns said the European Union had cut exports to Iran by more than half since 2005, when exports to Iran were valued at 22 billion euros, but much of that lost trade has been taken up by China. In related testimony, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently told the House Appropriations Committee last month that after the United States rejected aid to Jamaica, China stepped in with aid worth about $150 million. “We are losing ground,” she said.
In his testimony on Wednesday, Burns said that both China and Russia have hesitated to impose sanctions on Iran. He added that we need to make sure we sit down with China and Russia before we strike any agreements with Iran on discipline in administering sanctions.
Tensions between Iran and the United States began with the Iranian revolution in 1979, when the Iranian monarchy was overthrown and replaced by an Islamic republic. The coup was immediately followed by the Iran hostage crisis, where Iranian students raided the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held the diplomats for more than a year.
The United States responded by cutting diplomatic relations with Iran in 1980.
Iran has since tried to enrich uranium, often the first step toward the development of nuclear weapons. Iran has also funded terrorist organizations “that are shooting at us, shooting at Israelis,” Burns said.
Committee members noted the shift in the U.S. stance toward Iran, voicing hope in the success of new diplomacy mixed with apprehension over the continuing threat posed by Iran.
Setting the tone for that new diplomacy, President Obama sent an address to the Iranians during the recent Persian New Year, saying, “The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right, but it comes with real responsibilities.”