House, Senate pass final Iran sanctions enhancement

Congress approved a broad array of new sanctions targeting Iran, and the White House suggested it would implement them.

The U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate each passed the final version of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act on Wednesday—the House by a 421-6 vote and the Senate by unanimous consent, enabling passage by advancing a motion as long as no senator objects.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which lobbied for passage, praised both houses and particularly the bills sponsors, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Sens. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).

“Each passing day affords the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism the ability to advance its illicit nuclear program,” AIPAC said. “America must lead the effort to exert the maximum economic pressure to get Iran to change course.”

The bill expands sanctions on insurers dealing with Iran’s energy sector; sanctions anyone affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps; expands sanctions on energy and uranium mining activities in Tehran; and freezes the assets of individuals and companies that enable Iran to repress its citizens through the use of techology.

It also reduces the threshold for incurring sanctions from $20 million in annual dealings with Iran’s energy sector to $5 million.

Also, for the first time in actionable legislation, the measure defines the capability of building a nuclear weapon as posing a threat to the United States.

The Obama administration, with support from Senate Democrats, managed to roll back some provisions backed by the House and Senate Republicans. Under the final version, for instance, the president has considerable leeway to postpone sanctions on insurers in order to give them time to comply.

In a conference call Tuesday on the eve of the votes, top White House officials said the bill would be a useful tool for them in ratcheting up pressure on Iran, suggesting that they were ready to implement most of its provisions.

“We certainly share the goal, and we believe it can be an important tool in adding to the sanctions regime we have in place,” Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, said on the call. “We are reviewing the specific text of the bill that was produced, but we’re quite optimistic that we’re going to be able to continue to work in lockstep with Congress with this new legislation that’s working its way through Congress as we increase pressure.”

Presidents traditionally reserve the right to reject provisions of foreign policy bills, citing executive privilege.