Iranian missile tests have provoked widespread criticism in the U.S. Congress, where lawmakers called them provocative and urged stronger U.S. and international pressure on Tehran. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns told a congressional panel the United States and its allies are committed to maximizing diplomatic efforts on the Iranian nuclear issue.
A previously-scheduled hearing on U.S. policy toward Iran coincided with news that Iran's Revolutionary Guard forces test fired a barrage of missiles including the long range Shahab-3.
The White House condemned the launches, with a National Security Council spokesman saying Iran should refrain from further tests and cease development of ballistic missiles.
Undersecretary of State Burns used his testimony to reiterate the two-track approach of the United States and its partners, combining economic and financial sanctions with incentives:
"Our strategy is built on tough-minded diplomacy, maximizing pressure on the Iranians at multiple points to drive home the cost of continued defiance of the rest of the world, especially on nuclear issues," he said. "At the same time we're trying to make clear to Iran and its people what they stand to gain if they change course."
Potential threats to Israel from Iranian missiles were on the minds of Democrats and Republicans, including committee chairman Howard Berman:
"We need look no further than today's news of an Iranian long-range missile test, a missile capable of carrying a nuclear payload to Israel," he noted. "This, coupled with the belligerent talk from Tehran of 'enemy targets' being 'under surveillance,' could not make it any clearer that we need to use every diplomatic and economic tool available to steer Iran away from developing nuclear weapons capability."
Here is Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros Lehtinen:
"As today's news reports clearly show, Iran already has short and medium range missiles capable of reaching U.S. forces and allies in the region and is also pursuing long-range ballistic missiles to enable it to reach Europe and possibly the United States," she explained.
Illinois Republican Mark Kirk called on the G8 nations to impose a quarantine on gasoline exports to Iran, which depends on fuel imports, and said the U.S. should do more to protect Israel from Iranian threats:
"It's time for the United States to offer full ballistic missile defenses for Israel. Democracies are best when they stick together," he said.
Congressman Gary Ackerman was among Democrats launching renewed criticisms of the Bush administration over its reluctance to fully implement provisions of the Iran Sanctions Act.
"The administration has never implemented the Iran Sanctions Act, even though nearly 20 international companies and consortia have crossed the so-called red line of investing $20 million in Iran's energy sector," he said. "That shows them that the benefits are all there, but the costs are not to be paid."
Ackerman was supported by Republican Dan Burton who says more needs to be done to impose and enforce stronger economic and investment sanctions:
"We haven't been putting pressure on them to stop doing business with Iran when we say we're imposing every kind of sanction possible," he noted.
In his testimony, Undersecretary Burns reiterated long-standing Bush administration policy that it is fully committed to diplomacy, repeating that while on the table, the military option remains a last resort.
Burns provided this assessment of Iran's nuclear program:
"While deeply troubling, Iran's real nuclear progress has been less than the sum of its boasts," he explained. "It has not yet perfected enrichment and as a direct result of U.N. sanctions, Iran's ability to procure technology or items of significant for its nuclear or missile programs, even dual-use items, has been impaired."
At the same time, Burns says Iran still has not complied with U.N. Security Council resolutions regarding its uranium enrichment, or answered questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency about its past weaponization activities.