Chairman of the U.S House Committee on Foreign Affairs: We must restore American leadership and build closer ties with our regional allies
WASHINGTON – MOSTAFA EL-DESSOUKI
California Republican Congressman Ed Royce has been Chairman of the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs since 2013. He emerged as one of the most prominent critics in Congress of the Obama Administration’s negotiations with Iran. After the agreement had been signed, he advocated new forms of financial and other pressure on Iran. With respect to the struggle against ISIS, he has been a voice of conscience, helping to draw international attention to the suffering of Christian, Yazidi, and other minority victims of the organization’s brutality.
In his exclusive interview with Majalla, Royce discussed next steps for American policy toward Iran, provided a readout on Russia’s role in the Middle East, and spoke to the need for a reinvigoration of American engagement in the Middle East.
Q: In light of Iran’s continued destabilizing activity in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere since the nuclear deal, how in your view can the country be induced to change its foreign policies and end its sponsorship of terrorism?
A: Iran’s aggressive and hostile acts pose serious threats to the Middle East, as well as the U.S. The previous U.S. administration unwisely took pressure off of the regime by agreeing to lift sanctions as part of the nuclear deal. That led the regime to become even more belligerent, now with billions more in its coffers. Only by ratcheting up the pressure on Tehran can we limit its aggression.
Only by ratcheting up the pressure on Tehran can we limit its aggression
Q: You have made the case for new financial pressures on Iran to stop funding terror groups using the billions in unfrozen assets. At the dawn of a new administration, what is the future of your proposed strategy?
A: In the past, we’ve seen that the radical regime in Tehran responds when its bottom line is hurt. We should squeeze the regime by rigorously enforcing existing sanctions. We should also cut off Iran’s access to the U.S. Dollar, which would severely limit its ability to conduct transactions.
I welcomed the president’s decision last month to sanction 25 Iranian entities. Those sanctions were long overdue, and I look forward to working with the administration to further crack down on Iran’s illicit and destabilizing activities.
Q: President Trump has repeatedly called for a tougher line on Iran, but also closer ties with Russia. Given the alliance between the two powers in the Middle East, what options do you see for striking a prudent balance between the two goals?
A: U.S. policy in the Middle East must be clear-eyed. We’ve seen past presidents attempt to reach out to Vladimir Putin, but none have succeeded. That’s because Putin’s interests are at odds with America’s interests. If Russia were to reassess its support of Iran, that would be encouraging, but nothing suggests that is in the cards. Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism and through its proxies in Hezbollah, Hamas, and elsewhere, it has caused the deaths of thousands of innocents. Any notion that the U.S. and Iran can work together to defeat terrorism is foolish.
There’s no sign of Russia reassessing its relationship with Iran
Q: We note that IRGC Major General and Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani has surfaced in high-level meetings outside Iran, in violation of an explicit U.N. travel ban that has not been rescinded. Why has the U.S. not taken action in response? What options are available, and do you see them being pursued?
A: General Soleimani, as head of the Quds Force, is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans and many others. U.N. member states are obligated to enforce the U.N. sanctions preventing Soleimani’s travel. Member states must live up to their responsibilities and prevent this terrorist from crossing their borders.
Q: We would be grateful for your overall assessment of prospects for positive and effective policies toward the Middle East under the Trump Administration — in terms of degrees of optimism or the opposite — and any markers of success you’ll be watching for.
A: Unfortunately, America’s standing on the world stage was hurt by the previous administration’s reluctance to lead. Our enemies were emboldened, and our allies were left questioning our resolve. We can reverse these trends by restoring American leadership and building closer ties with our regional allies. The Trump administration certainly understands the need for success in our campaign against ISIS.