Senate committee advances bill for new Iran sanctions
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Senate committee advances bill for new Iran sanctions

AIPAC and J Street hail legislation aimed at thwarting Tehran's destabilizing activities without violating nuclear deal

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), left, shakes hands with ranking member Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) during a committee markup meeting on the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran on April 14, 2015. (JTA/Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), left, shakes hands with ranking member Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) during a committee markup meeting on the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran on April 14, 2015. (JTA/Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed legislation Thursday aimed at strengthening sanctions against Iran for its ballistic missile testing and other non-nuclear provocations, but which would not violate the terms of the nuclear deal.

Passed by a vote of 18-3, the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017 would impose new mandatory sanctions against persons and entities involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program and sanctions against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Despite the warnings of former secretary of state John Kerry — who went on a “tweetstorm” Wednesday against the bill, advising lawmakers to “tread careful” on matters related to the Iran deal — the measure garnered bipartisan support.

The bill was authored by the committee’s chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and ranking member Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), along with New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat.

“These steps will allow us to regain the initiative on Iran and push back forcefully against this threat to our security and that of our allies,” Corker said.

Introducing the bill in March, Corker emphasized the need to address Iran’s continued ballistic missile tests, which defy a UN Security Council resolution.

Illustrative photo of Iran's Hormoz ballistic missile. (Screenshot/YouTube)
Illustrative photo of Iran’s Hormoz ballistic missile. (Screenshot/YouTube)

 

The bill also mandates the president to block assets of any person or entity involved in the supply, sale or transfer of illegal arms to or from Iran.

“Iran is contributing to regional instability and has not demonstrated any interest in rejoining the community of responsible nations by halting its malign behavior,” Cardin said.

Both Democrats and Republicans on the committee have insisted on responding to Iran’s provocative ballistic missile tests for months, but reportedly waited until after the recent Iran election to vote on this legislation.

Its passage was hailed by both the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and J Street — two organizations that have rarely seen eye to eye on US policy toward the Iranian challenge.

AIPAC “commended” the committee for adopting the bill and said it “urges the full Senate to adopt this critical, bipartisan legislation.”

The powerful pro-Israel lobby also noted a provision that authorizes the president to sanction Iranians responsible for human rights violations.

J Street, for its part, lauded legislators for ensuring this legislation did not violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name for the Iran deal brokered by former president Barack Obama and signed in July 2015 — a component that altered its position on the measure.

“J Street applauds the leadership and members of the committee for making the changes necessary to ensure that the bill does not violate the important and successful JCPOA nuclear agreement,” said the group’s vice president of government affairs Dylan Williams in a statement. “As a result of the changes, we no longer oppose the legislation.”

Newly re-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gestures during a televised speech in the capital Tehran on May 20, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE)
Newly re-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gestures during a televised speech in the capital Tehran on May 20, 2017. (AFP/Atta Kenare)

Williams also noted the implications of last week’s Iranian election, in which President Hassan Rouhani, who signed the nuclear accord, was re-elected with 57 percent support from the Iranian public.

“While the elections were highly constrained, their outcome was significant,” he said. “They provided a new mandate of support for the president who secured the JCPOA, has criticized anti-American rhetoric and has expressed openness to further diplomatic engagement.”

Thursday’s passage sets up a vote on the Senate floor in the coming weeks. A date has not yet scheduled.

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