May 5, 2015 | Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development

Iran Accountability Week 2015

Chairman Reid and honourable members of the committee, thank you for inviting me again to testify. It's a great pleasure to be testifying with two of my colleagues from Washington, Mark and Ali. I think they've done a tremendous job in laying out the vast system of domestic repression that the Iranian regime has constructed and continues to implement.

I want to talk about three issues that are all interlinked. I want to talk about Iran's nuclear breakout, Iran's regional breakout, and I also want to provide some further colour and specific recommendations on Iran's domestic crackdown.

Let me begin with the nuclear issue. The nuclear negotiations have a deadline of June 30. We know something about where those negotiations are going. Roughly speaking, there are a few issues to be resolved, but if there is a deal at the end of these negotiations, and I stress “if”, the Iranian regime will be left with the significant nuclear infrastructure in place already. There will also be a sunset provision or a series of sunset provisions under which the constraints to be imposed on Iran's program will effectively disappear for the most part between years 10 and 15. Within a decade or a decade and a half, the Iranian government will be left with a significant industrial-sized nuclear program with unlimited enrichment capacity, zero breakout, the ability to build multiple plutonium heavy water reactors, a long-range ballistic missile program including an intercontinental ballistic missile program, and the ability to develop advanced centrifuges. Actually from day one they can begin testing those centrifuges and then can put it into full scale operations and production by year 15.

They will also be left with their entire infrastructure intact—their Natanz enrichment facility; their Arakheavy water reactor; and, most troubling, their Fordow enrichment facility, which is an enrichment facility buried under a mountain on a Revolutionary Guards base. There they will continue to be able to operate centrifuges, albeit in a constrained way, for at least the first decade and a half. They will emerge with a hardened enrichment facility there, including advanced centrifuges for enrichment.

So what effectively we've done is that we started off with a goal of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon by trying to dismantle Iran's nuclear infrastructure and prohibit Iran from having domestic enrichment like 19 or 20 other countries, including Canada, which don't have the enrichment capacity. We've effectively gone from dismantling that capacity to talking about shuttering the facilities, and now all the facilities will stay open. As I said, most of the constraints on that program will disappear in a decade to a decade and a half. I remind the members here that 9/11 was only 14 years ago and 14 years goes by in a flash. So Iran is essentially going to be in a position very quickly to engage in a significant nuclear breakout, a covert nuclear sneakout. The Iranians will position themselves—through an inch out, through a series of serial cheating and challenging of IAEA inspectors—to be well-poised in at least a decade, maybe a decade and a half, to have a full-scale nuclear weapons capability on a territory that's more than twice the size of Texas. I don't know what the Canadian geographical equivalent is, but Texas is a big state. More than twice the size of Texas is an awfully large territory for the IAEA to have to monitor.

As part of the nuclear negotiations, the P5+1 will give significant sanctions relief to Iran, including returning over $100 billion in oil revenue that's currently locked up in escrow accounts around the world; allow Iran to return to selling oil, which even at the price of oil today will net the regime at least about $15 billion to $18 billion a year; and they will begin to be able to plug their financial institutions back into the formal financial system. They will return to the SWIFT financial messaging system, and they will be able essentially to engage in normal commercial activities like any other “normal” country. It's with this massive sanctions relief that Iran will continue its aggressive regional breakout.

The Iranians through these negotiations have used the nuclear negotiations to constrain U.S. and western pressure, and force the west not to push back against Iran's regional goal of attaining hegemony in the Middle East. Today Iran is in control of four Arab capitals. It is moving on Sana'a in Yemen, Bagdad, Damascus, and Beirut. So this aggressive regional breakout, which has been led by the Revolutionary Guards, specifically by the Quds Force and a man named Qasem Soleimani, has already emboldened Iran. With the return of tens of billions of dollars, Iran will be flush with cash and have the ability to continue to fund the Quds Force and Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iraqi Shiite militias and Houthis in Yemen, and any other surrogates who will help advance Iran's regional breakout.

As Iran is engaged in both a nuclear breakout and an emboldened regional breakout, which has been empowered by economic resources that the Iranian regime will get under a program of sanctions relief, they continue, as Mark and Ali have outlined, a program of domestic crackdown.

That domestic crackdown, as those gentlemen have outlined in detail, has not subsided at all during these negotiations. You would think that the Iranian government would want to show the international community some goodwill and would want to build confidence. Our diplomats talk about confidence-building measures. You would think the Iranian regime would have diminished its violent crackdown of its own citizens, would have diminished its regional aggression in order to build confidence that they can be the kind of government that should be trusted to have an industrial-size nuclear program with unlimited enrichment capacity and near-zero breakout in just over a decade.

Instead, this regime has gone in the opposite direction, as we've heard: to a vast system of domestic repression that is only growing, a regional aggression strategy that is only being emboldened, and a nuclear infrastructure that is only going to be increasing.

The specific elements of this all converge on one major actor, and that is not President Rouhani; it is not foreign minister Zarif; it is the Revolutionary Guards, controlled by a man named Jafari, and specifically by his deputy, who has become increasingly a household name, a man named Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force. It's Soleimani who is in charge of the IRGC's extraterritorial activities, but he is also now the major-domo of the Middle East. He is both incredibly prominent and prevalent in the Middle East. He is a man who has emerged from the dark shadows that he used to exist in to the light, where he is now taking selfies of himself throughout the Middle East. He has become a rock star among the hardliners in Iran. He is a man well-positioned for great future success. He is a man, as my colleague Ali Alfoneh is going to detail soon in a report, whom you must think of when you think of Iran's nuclear program, because Qasem Soleimani and the bomb is what we will look forward to over the next decade. Soleimani and the Revolutionary Guards are also in control of the Basij and their own intelligence service. It's the Basij and the intelligence service that are responsible for the crackdown on human rights in Iran.

Essentially what we've done through emboldening and facilitating an Iranian nuclear breakout, through permitting an Iranian regional breakout, through empowering the Revolutionary Guards economically, is to also contribute to the Revolutionary Guards' ability to crack down domestically.

I fear that as these negotiations continue, when and if a nuclear deal is reached, this Revolutionary Guard, with its Basij, with its Quds Force, will be even more dangerous and an even more aggressive than we've seen in the past.

What can Canada do about this?

Canada has shown great leadership on both human rights and sanctions. I would like to reiterate a point made by Mark. I think it's absolutely important that Canada continue its leadership on targeted sanctions with respect to human rights.

I would add one additional recommendation, which is something I've testified to on a number of occasions before this committee. Canada should amend its Special Economic Measures Act, SEMA. SEMA currently allows the Canadian government to impose sanctions if there is specifically a situation that constitutes a grave breach of international peace and security that has resulted or is likely to result in a serious international crisis.

With respect to Iran, this has been primarily focused on proliferation—Iran's role in nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and proliferation activities. As the nuclear deal moves forward, as the U.S. begins to unwind its proliferation-related sanctions, and as the Europeans drop all of their sanctions, which are nuclear-related with the exception of a few targeted human rights sanctions, the Revolutionary Guards and the Quds Force will, as I mentioned, find themselves flush with cash.

By modifying SEMA to include human rights instead of just proliferation, and by defining grave human rights abuses as a breach of international peace and security, Canada can be sending both a powerful symbolic message as well as a powerful material message to those who are responsible for Iran's vast system of domestic repression.

Specifically we have to go beyond targeted sanctions. We have to go beyond travel bans and asset freezes and actually use SEMA to target those elements of the Revolutionary Guards, both the people and the companies and the sources of revenue, that facilitate and embolden Iran's vast system of domestic repression.

This includes going after members of the Revolutionary Guards, members of the Basij, members of the intelligence services—and not only the individuals, but also their front companies. Many of them run significant networks of front companies globally, some of them out of Dubai, some out of the Gulf, some out of Latin America. There's an extensive illicit network run by these gentlemen—and they are gentlemen, as there are very few women doing this—who are using the network to raise cash to further their illicit activities.

If you modified SEMA to include human rights as one of the key grounds on which you could designate these individuals and their networks, then you could be helping to rob them of some of the cash they're going to need to further their illicit activities both at home and abroad.

With that I'll stop. Again I thank you, Chairman Reid and distinguished colleagues, for the opportunity.