Congress set to tighten economic noose on Iran

Two widely supported bills would expand sanctions beyond financial and energy sectors, and urge support for Israel in any confrontation with Tehran

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

US Congress (photo credit: CC BY-SA Dougtone, Flickr)
US Congress (photo credit: CC BY-SA Dougtone, Flickr)

NEW YORK — The US House and Senate are set to advance two bills that would significantly expand US sanctions on Iran beyond the financial and energy sectors and offer support for Israel in case of a confrontation with Tehran.

A House bill, H.R. 850, would grant the president the ability to sanction any company doing business in Iran, a power that could expand the current sanctions regime beyond the Islamic Republic’s energy and financial sectors into manufacturing and other sectors key to Iran’s economic resilience.

“We need crippling sanctions on the books and to have them fully implemented by the Administration,” the bill’s sponsors, Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and ranking Democrat on the committee Eliot Engel (D-NY), said earlier this month.

The bill will be discussed in the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, while a similar bill is being advanced in the Senate by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL). The bills are expected to reach their final form and be brought to a vote in both chambers in the coming months.

In addition to expanding economic restrictions, the House version of the bill would sanction “human rights violators” in Iran, including “corrupt officials that (sic) confiscate humanitarian and other goods for their own benefit” and “persons exporting sensitive technology to Iran,” according to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s summary of the bill.

H.R. 850 is officially titled the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013. It is expected to reach the House floor for a vote in mid-June, likely around the time of the Iranian elections on June 14.

The bill also instructs the Obama administration to consider designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps a foreign terrorist organization for its involvement in the country’s nuclear program, its involvement in suppressing the country’s pro-democracy movement, and its alleged role in recent attempted and successful terror attacks around the world.

Finally, the bill requires the Obama administration to produce a “national strategy on Iran” each year “highlighting Iranian capabilities and key vulnerabilities that the United States may exploit, providing the United States Government a roadmap as to how to effectively address the Iranian threat.”

Meanwhile, Senate Resolution 65, which urges military and economic support for Israel in the event of a military confrontation with Iran, will reach the Senate floor next week for a vote. Introduced by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the resolution “urges that if Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program the US government should provide Israel with diplomatic, military, and economic support,” according to a Congressional summary of the resolution.

Menendez and Graham have called the resolution a clear message to Iran that the US will take all necessary steps to ensure Tehran does not acquire a nuclear weapon.

“No one wants another conflict anywhere in the world militarily, but we also don’t want a nuclear-capable Iran,” Graham told reporters at a February press conference.

The resolution states outright that it should not be construed as an authorization for use of force or a declaration of war.

The resolution is non-binding, but has garnered 92 cosponsors in the 100-member chamber.

The House sanctions bill enjoys a similar popularity in Congress, garnering 332 cosponsors as of Friday afternoon, over three-quarters of the House’s 435 members.

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