Reuters: The best U.S. option for pressuring Iran's hard-line government is to drive down oil prices by reducing America's dependence on imported energy, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Wednesday.
By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The best U.S. option for pressuring Iran's hard-line government is to drive down oil prices by reducing America's dependence on imported energy, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Wednesday.
In an interview with Reuters, Senator John Kerry said a rhetorical war with Tehran over its violent crackdown on protests following the June 12 election would be ineffective.
President Barack Obama on Tuesday sharpened his criticism of Iran's clampdown on protesters, saying he was appalled and outraged by it. But he continued to try to walk a fine line and avoid the appearance of meddling in Iran's affairs.
"In this case the most significant thing we could do is drive the price of oil down by guaranteeing that we are more energy independent and have a stronger energy policy," Kerry said. "Because Iran is in serious trouble if the price of oil is under 50 bucks and heading downwards.
"So if you want leverage, and different attitudes in Iran, that's a very significant way we could have an impact. Far more than sitting around figuring out what to say to them, or engaging in a public, rhetorical back-and-forth which will do nothing to alter their direction."
Kerry linked the suppression of protests in Iran, the world's fifth largest crude exporter, with the need for Congress to pass legislation reducing U.S. reliance on oil.
A bill on combating climate change working its way through Congress would require companies that pollute to gradually wean themselves from oil and other fossil fuels in favor of cleaner alternative energy such as wind and solar power.
Obama has made passage of a climate change bill one of his top priorities. The House of Representatives is expected to debate and possibly pass the measure on Friday and the Senate is then expected to draft its own climate bill.
'ANTITHESIS OF TIMID'
Kerry, who lost a race for the White House to then-President George W. Bush in 2004, rejected Republican criticism of fellow Democrat Obama as too "timid" while events unfolded in Iran this month.
He noted that Obama had condemned the violence early and pointed to Obama's speech in Cairo on June 4, when the president spoke about democracy, Muslims and the Middle East, calling it "the antithesis of timid," Kerry said.
"Rushing around with high decibels of confrontational rhetoric here doesn't necessarily advance the cause of Iranians, doesn't necessarily protect those Iranians, and doesn't necessarily in the long run advance our interests."
"Let's be smart. We will not lose our option to be tough by being a little more judicious in these next hours."
Kerry said Congress did not need to act now on a proposal in the Senate to give the president the authority to impose more sanctions on Iran by punishing companies that provide gasoline to Tehran.
The proposal is supported by about 60 of the 100 U.S. senators, reflecting the considerable appetite for more sanctions against Iran if it does not freeze its nuclear program. The West says the program is aimed at building an atomic bomb but Tehran says is for peaceful energy purposes.
Lawmakers should wait to see how events in Iran play out, and whether a serious dialogue could be started between Tehran and the Obama administration, he said.
It's possible recent events could lead to more discussions between the United States and Tehran, "providing we're not in a state of rhetorical war," he said.
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by David Storey)