WASHINGTON — The US Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation Thursday to strengthen sanctions against Iran for its ballistic missile testing and other non-nuclear provocations.
The bill also included fresh sanctions against Russia for its alleged interference in America’s most recent elections and its destabilizing activities around the globe.
Passed by a vote of 98-2, 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.
The bill was authored by the Senate Foreign Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and ranking member Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), along with New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat.
The legislation — which advanced through the committee level last month — 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 at the time.
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 — have hailed the measure.
AIPAC “commended” the Senate on Thursday for adopting the bill and J Street had previously lauded legislators after its committee passage for ensuring the text did not violate the Iran deal.
The only two senators to vote against the bill Thursday were Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R).
Both Democrats and Republicans in Washington 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.
On Thursday, members of both parties praised the legislation.
“Iran is still the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said. “They are supporting groups that have toppled pro-Western governments throughout the Middle East. They have humiliated and unlawfully imprisoned American sailors on the high seas. And they continuously and flagrantly violate U.N. restrictions on their missile program.”
“These new sanctions will be a strong statement by the Congress and the Trump Administration – that business as usual with Iran is over,” he added.
Meanwhile, at the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center’s lunch on Capitol Hill, both Cardin and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said the bill was a sign of bipartisan unity in Washington when it comes to Israel’s security.
“Those who supported the agreements aid, ‘Oh, Iran will moderate.’ Well they haven’t, they’re still testing ballistic missile, they’re still exporting terrorism,” Schumer said.
The party leader indicated last week that Senate Democrats might not support a new Iran sanctions move unless it comes in a package that includes sanctions against Russia.
On Wednesday, the Senate approved a separate bill, by vote of 97-2, that blocked US President Donald Trump’s capacity to relieve or end penalties against Moscow.
“With passage of this legislation, the Senate reasserts congressional authority – while providing the Trump administration appropriate national security flexibility – and sends a clear signal to both Iran and Russia that our country will stand firm in the face of destabilizing behavior and that Congress will play a leading role in protecting our national interests,” Corker said.
The day before its vote in committee, former secretary of state John Kerry —who helped broker the Iran nuclear deal forged in July 2015 — went on a “tweetstorm” against the bill, advising lawmakers to “tread careful” on matters related to the accord.
Introducing the bill in March, Corker emphasized the need to address Iran’s continued ballistic missile tests, which defy a UN Security Council resolution.
“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,” he said.
Thursday’s passage sends the bill to the House of Representatives. If it passes there, it will then go to the president’s desk.