Fighting Terrorists Must Be Focus

Posted December 3, 2004 at 10:40am

With the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on our nation, we learned, to our horror, that no nation is immune from the violent hatred of fundamentalist terrorism. On that day, we were seized by the power of evil. Now, we are informed and better prepared to defeat this evil. The need for vigilance, however, remains paramount.

Defeating terrorist organizations of global reach; denying them the promise and benefits of state-sponsorship, severing their lines of financing, closing much-needed sanctuaries; and pre-empting the proliferation of weapons and technology, is a central component of this struggle.

As chairwoman of the International Relations subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia, I have been focusing on these issues with the same goal in mind: Addressing state sponsors of terrorism such as Iran and Syria, but also examining the precursor conditions contributing to the rise of Islamist extremism, and the current and emerging terrorist sanctuaries and activities threatening our nation and our interests.

These issues will remain priorities for me in the next Congress.

Iran, this aggressive nuclear power-to-be, is a problem for the world, not just the Middle East.

The urgency of the Iranian threat is not limited to its nuclear intentions. Iran is the full ticket. It has medium and long-range missile programs; is believed to have chemical and biological weapons programs; and remains the most active state sponsor of terrorism in the world.

To address the issue of Iran’s pursuit of more deadly weapons and its support for international terrorism, and to help further the efforts of those who have toiled for freedom and democracy in Iran, I introduced the “Iran Freedom Support Act” in September, which received the support of close to 50 bipartisan co-sponsors.

This act, which I will be reintroducing as soon as the House convenes for the 109th Congress, provides a two-prong strategy for addressing the Iranian threat.

It holds the terrorist regime accountable for behavior and policies that endanger the United States and global security, while supporting human rights and pro-democracy forces inside Iran.

Among other provisions, the bill codifies existing U.S. sanctions on Iran; and strengthens, with respect to Iran, the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, tightening the enforcement provisions of the original bill and expanding on the president’s ability to punish Iran for its misdeeds.

This act also authorizes the president to provide assistance to pro-democracy groups he deems eligible, including the award of grants for independent radio and television broadcasts into Iran.

Similarly, in Syria, we face a regime that possesses robust unconventional and ballistic missile programs; provides material support for and safe haven to terrorist organizations of global reach; occupies Lebanon; and continues to deny its people the most fundamental freedoms.

Through the passage and implementation of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act, the United States manifested its commitment to combating the threats posed by the regime in Damascus.

The pressure exerted by the United States contributed to the adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, calling for an immediate withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon, Syrian noninterference in Lebanon’s presidential elections, and the disarming of Hezbollah.

Much more remains to be done, if we are to help the Syrian and Lebanese people in their struggle to free themselves from the shackles of the Syrian dictatorship.

When it comes to funding terror and hatred, we must pay close attention to Saudi Arabia. Saudi-inspired organizations, under the guise of charities, continue to support and fund terrorism against the United States and our allies around the world.

Saudi-funded educational and religious institutions continue to propel students into a practice of an anti-American and anti-Western mentality, incitement to violence, and a life of aggression dedicated to the destruction of democratic values and of those nations, such as Israel and the United States, who embody those principles.

These Saudi institutions also add to the stain of anti-Semitism. They spread this venom and propel horrible myths into outright violence.

In the 109th Congress, we will continue to address such intolerance. Hatred must be reduced to lower the success of terrorism and improve our defense against it.

As we maintain or increase the pressure on those who refuse to change their unacceptable behavior, we must commend and encourage those engaged in economic, educational and political liberalization efforts.

We must assist them in building their nascent institutions. Toward this goal, I hope to have the opportunity to expand our exchanges and activities with parliamentarians and civil society leaders from Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Yemen and other reforming countries.

To help maximize the positive effect of our programs, we must exert oversight over our broadcasts to the Arab and Muslim world, as well as over the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative, the Middle East Partnership Initiative, and efforts toward a Middle East Free Trade Area.

This emphasis also applies to our relations with Central Asia, encompassing a broader strategic and security relationship, while highlighting the integral part of political and economic reform and respect for human rights play as bulwarks against regional instability.

We must not expect clones of our democracy but, rather, an evolution toward free and open societies where the leaders respect and uphold universally accepted human rights and civil liberties.

My focus stems from an unwavering belief in the power of freedom and my personal experience as a refugee from a repressive terrorist regime.

Our goals, like our challenges, are great, but I look forward to the 109th Congress and the opportunity to work with my colleagues to find solutions to these.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) is chairwoman of the International Relations subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia.