By Bridget Johnson - 02/13/11 10:00 PM EST
Lawmakers participated in a new film on Tehran's pursuit of
nuclear weapons intended to get the attention of the White House and
The Iranian government, which claims it is expanding its nuclear program for peaceful energy purposes, has condemned "Iranium" and successfully lobbied Canada to postpone a showing of it. The Canadian government subsequently reversed course and showed the 60-minute documentary.
"Iranium," which is narrated by Oscar winner Shohreh Aghdashloo, was screened in the Rayburn House Office Building on Tuesday. Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Allen West (R-Fla.) and David McKinley (R-W.Va.) were in attendance.
Three legislators participated in the filming of "Iranium": Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Reps. Engel and Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), both members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
"It was really kind of like word of mouth," first-time director Alex Traiman told The Hill of how the lawmakers came to be involved in "Iranium."
Many lawmakers were invited to participate in the 10-day shoot that included 25 interviews across Washington, but "really most of it had to do with scheduling" and not a lack of interest, Traiman said.
The two Democrats and Republican who are featured onscreen are known for drawing attention to the Islamic regime.
"We know that Iran is the leading sponsor and supporter of terrorism around the world," Engel says in the film. "We have to succeed. You know that old, tired adage 'failure is not an option'? Failure's not an option."
Of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Berkley says, "We talked for many years that he was just a front and the real power was the mullahs.
"The reality is this: Whether it's the mullahs that are calling the shots or the president of Iran that is calling the shots their remarks are the same."
The film comes as the latest refrain on Iran is steered more toward human rights and democracy than nuclear development.
Tehran praised Egyptians for rising up against Hosni Mubarak's secular government, calling it an Islamic awakening and stinging rebuke of the West.
But whereas some trace the roots of the grass-roots, social-media-driven revolt in Egypt to the Green Revolution protests against Ahmadinejad's 2009 election, Iran quickly made clear this weekend that no opposition rallies -- "riots by seditionists" -- would be permitted, sparking a rebuke from the White House and vows by the opposition to press forward and protest anyway.
The desire to topple the regime is certainly shared by many on Capitol Hill as shown through bipartisan efforts in the last Congress. Yet even with a Republican House majority, legislation dealing with Iran's nuclear program has been slow to emerge from the 112th Congress.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) introduced the Tough and Smart National Security Act last month, which includes the sense of the Senate that Congress should "confront the nuclear threat from Iran." His office didn't respond to a request to expound upon this.
In the film's bonus footage posted online, Kyl said Iran has been facing "relatively low-grade sanctions" from the West in the financial, trade and banking sectors, but said they should be expanded to the energy and technology sectors.
"Those kinds of sanctions can directly affect the ability of the regime to survive and we need to make those even stronger," he said.
On Sunday, the head of Iran's Chamber of Commerce said that the international business community had lent a valuable hand in rendering sanctions ineffective.
"We could be, I think, much more effective at putting pressure on the Iranian regime if we had an effective sanction to cut off their import of refined gas," Kyl said.
"Iranium" is produced by the nonprofit Clarion Fund, a group that drew headlines shortly before the 2008 presidential election.
The group at the time sent 28 million DVDs of the film "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West" to swing states to be tucked into newspapers. A handful of of media outlets refused to carry the insert, echoing the concerns of some groups that branded the film "fear-mongering" and "divisive." House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) hosted a screening of "Obsession" on Capitol Hill in 2006 after Cantor's cousin was killed by a suicide bomber in Tel Aviv.
The Clarion Fund counts former Assistant Secretary of Defense Frank Gaffney and Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes among its board members.