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The US administration needs to stick to its stated September deadline for stricter sanctions against Iran if it fails to offer a substantive response on engagement over its nuclear program, Congressman Mike Rogers from Michigan, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
Rogers, a former FBI agent, made it clear throughout the interview, which took place on the sidelines of the 9th Annual International Institute of Counter-Terrorism (ICT) Conference at IDC Herzliya, that he was not speaking for the Obama administration, but was giving his views only.
"The new administration will find its sea legs and show more consistency. They've set a September timeline and I'm eager for them to hold to this September timeline.
"They need to hold to the September timeline. Nothing's happened yet from the Iranians. If we get too far into September and there isn't anything substantive from the Iranians, I think we can no longer play this 'give me three more months and let me look at the proposal' game," he said.
"The window for making a real impact is closing and the clock goes faster, it doesn't run at a constant pace. We need our European allies to step up, too.
"Trade is an issue, I get it. But if you think that the value of trade is your answer in this equation then we're all in trouble. If you start getting into the coffers and put pressure on the Ahmadinejad regime you can have an impact, given where the population is [after the contested election]. This is the perfect storm for us, we should do something with it," Rogers said.
On Monday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran was willing to "debate and talk" to the world on "regional challenges," but stressed that there would be no discussion on Iran's "right to a nuclear program."
The Iranians are obviously buying time, Rogers said Tuesday, the same day Iran said it will present new proposals to the global powers charged with negotiating with Teheran over its controversial nuclear program.
"We cannot wait too long for serious sanctions. We need to tell the Iranians that a good size of their population were not that thrilled with the results of the last election and the way the leadership is isolating the country from the rest of the international community. We're going to step up our sanctions in agreement with those folks, and we'd love to extend an invitation to the international community, but it can't come with an acceptance of a nuclear Iran," Rogers added.
Rogers's committee has influence on policy in Congress mainly because it has access to the most classified information from the US's intelligence agencies.
The panel oversees the intelligence community, including operations and budgetary oversight, and is the primary panel responsible for overseeing implementation of the intelligence community restructuring. The committee lobbies the executive branch to take action on various national security issues.
American efforts to slap sanctions on Iran have been repeatedly thwarted by Russia and China. One way America is trying to convince Russia to back a tough sanctions regime against Iran, Rogers said, is by highlighting evidence showing Teheran's activities against US and coalition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"A nuclear Iran doesn't get us less trouble, it gets us more trouble. Lots more trouble. And that's what we're trying to convince the Russians," Rogers said.
"If they think that Chechnya is just a small problem for them now, wait until the radical Muslim community decides that they can get in there with relative impunity [under an Iranian nuclear umbrella] and do what damage they wish. It spreads our problems worldwide," he said.
The argument is that a nuclear-armed Iran is not in Moscow's strategic interest in its own sphere of influence.
"Iran has clearly shown that they are willing to take a fairly significant risk by introducing fairly lethal weaponry, with good signatures on them so we know where they're coming from, into the battlefield [against US and coalition forces]. They've been pretty brazen. And if they're willing to introduce lethality into a battlefield into a theatre that, theoretically, they shouldn't be in, imagine what they'd do if they had [nuclear] technology.
"And look at who their tutors are: North Korea. And what is North Korea doing? Proliferating nuclear technology. The Iranians have clearly shown me that they'll do whatever they have to do.
"Those folks who argue that you'll have to accept a nuclear Iran - well, this isn't France that's going to abide by the rules. Iran will not abide by the rules. Their aims are different and they're using terrorism today to accomplish their aims. Why would a nuclear weapon make them adhere to good policies?" Rogers said.
Rogers thinks the intelligence showing an Iranian nuclear weapons program is overwhelming. He believes Iran will assemble a nuclear bomb well before 2014, which is the date Mossad chief Meir Dagan spoke of several months ago during an appearance at the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee.
"I believe it's sooner. I believe they've produced enough low-enriched uranium for at least one bomb. Even the IAEA is not too far away from that. If you look at what they've had and what's coming, and we've seen some of that, it clearly shows that the Iranians are there. Iran's original request for 3,000 centrifuges is not a civilian program - that is a weapons program."
"I'm not buying Iran's insistence that its nuclear program is for peaceful energy purposes," he said.
Rogers also said he is not aware of any Obama administration policy of linkage between movement on the Israeli-Palestinian track and efforts at halting Iran's nuclear drive, the so-called "Bushehr [nuclear plant] for Yitzhar [settlement]" formula.
In April, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said progress on establishing a Palestinian state must go "hand-in-hand" with efforts to stem Iranian influence in the Middle East.
"I don't think it should be linked. You have two very separate problems. You have a terrorist state, Iran, who's doing pretty bad things, including against our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan for a while now, and they're being fairly risk-taking when they do that. And then you have the Palestinian-Israeli issue which is about different things.
"I would hope that we wouldn't link the two. I would argue that if you do link the two you empower the Palestinians to an unfair advantage over the Israeli position," he said.
An interview with Cong. Mike Rogers will appear in Friday's Jerusalem Post.
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