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May 17, 2013

Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman testifies before Congress on the multiple challenges posed by Iran, including nuclear weapons ambitions, support for terrorism and human rights abuses.
Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman testifies before Congress on the multiple challenges posed by Iran, including nuclear weapons ambitions, support for terrorism and human rights abuses.

By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
IIP Staff Writer
May 16, 2013

Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told a congressional panel that the Iranian regime has chosen to isolate its people, stunt the country’s economic growth, repress freedom of expression and align the nation with global terrorism and extremist groups.

“Iranians deserve better. Iran’s government can choose to end these policies at any time and put their people’s well being first,” Sherman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a May 15 hearing on U.S. policy toward Iran.

The Iranian people are being affected by misplaced priorities, corruption and government mismanagement, added Sherman, who is the under secretary for political affairs at the State Department.

“Instead of meeting the needs of its own people, the Iranian regime has chosen to spend enormous amounts of its money and resources to support the Assad regime [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] as well as its militant proxies around the world, and to pursue the development of weapons of mass destruction,” Sherman added.

“Instead of investing in its people, Iran continues to restrain their vast potential through censorship, oppression and severe limitations on their social, political and even academic freedom.”

In the United States, Sherman says, the opposite is true. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have repeatedly said that American communities have been enhanced by the contributions of Iranian Americans, a people who have come from a great civilization and whose accomplishments have earned the respect of the world, she said.

“That is why in his 2013 Nowruz message, the president emphasized that there is no good reason for Iranians to be denied the opportunities enjoyed by people in other countries,” she testified. “Iranians deserve the same freedoms and rights as people everywhere, and all nations would benefit from the talents and creativity of the Iranian people, especially its youth.”

The United States has been increasingly concerned by the Iranian regime’s continuing campaign of repression against its own people, which has included harassment and intimidation of the families of those who speak out for freedoms and civil liberties, torture of political prisoners and limitations applied to freedom of expression and access to information such as the Internet. Sherman said that these acts have created a culture of fear in which few dare to voice dissent or challenge the regime. She added that students, lawyers, journalists and bloggers, ethnic and religious minorities, artists and human rights activists are all targets for abuse, intimidation or discrimination.

The global press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders has described the Iranian regime as an “enemy of the Internet.” The Iranian government filters online content and blocks access to the Internet in an effort to prevent Iranian citizens from acquiring knowledge and unbiased information about their own country and the outside world, Sherman told senators.

“We are committed to raise the cost of repression and help Iranians break through the ‘electronic curtain’ the regime is erecting to communicate with one another and share their story with the world,” Sherman added in her testimony.

In other Senate testimony on Iran, Sherman said that the United States has developed a multistrategy approach for dealing with the many challenges posed by Iran in addition to its human rights abuses — an unchecked nuclear weapons development program, support for international terrorism and destabilizing activities throughout the Middle East.

Iran’s nuclear development program violates its international obligations, is in defiance of the international community and poses one of the greatest challenges the United States faces, she told senators.

“A nuclear-armed Iran would pose a threat to the region, to the world and to the future of the global nuclear proliferation regime,” Sherman said. “It would risk an arms race in a region already rife with violence and conflict.”

Sherman testified that a nuclear weapons regime would spread instability through proxies of Iran and threaten choke points for the global economy.

The United States is pursuing a dual-track strategy — one that encourages diplomatic resolution through the P5+1 group, which includes the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) and Germany under the auspices of the European Union.

“There is still time for [Iran] to change course, but that time is not indefinite,” Sherman said. “I want to be clear that our policy is not aimed at regime change, but rather at changing the regime’s behavior.”

The second part of the dual-track approach has been the application of increasingly stringent economic sanctions that are affecting the country’s ability to raise money globally and to sell oil. Each day Iran exports 1 million fewer barrels of oil, which is costing the regime $3 billion to $5 billion a month, she added.

Sherman told the Senate committee that the United States has grave concerns about the Iranian regime’s support for terrorism and destabilizing activities in the Middle East, including its support for the violently repressive regime of Syrian President Assad against the Syrian people and its support for terrorist groups such as Hezbollah.