Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Thursday warmly welcomed a US House of
Representatives decision imposing new, punishing sanctions on
Netanyahu said the move sent an important message that Iran will
not get a period of grace because of Hassan Rouhani’s victory in the
“Following the Iranian elections, the House of Representatives
has sent a clear message to the Iranian regime that international pressure will
increase until Iran meets its obligations and ceases its pursuit of a nuclear
weapons capability. We will judge Iran by its actions alone,” the prime minister
The US House of Representatives passed a bill on Wednesday by a
commanding 400-20 bipartisan majority to tighten sanctions on Iran’s petroleum
sector. The move came just days before the inauguration of Rouhani on Sunday as
Iran’s new president.
Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said the
congressional move was important because it was the first time an international
body has stepped up the sanctions since Rouhani was elected to replace Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad in June.
Netanyahu has called for the world not to “let its
guard down” because of the election of someone perceived by some in the West as a
“moderate, ” but rather to keep up intense pressure on Tehran.
“This is a
message to the Iranians that they don’t get a year of grace, that words and
smiles will not be enough, and that if they do not want sanctions upgraded, they
will have to take tangible measures,” the sources said.
“The timing of
this measure is crucial,” the sources added.
“These are the first serious
measures taken after the election.”
The US Senate is expected to support
the legislation – the toughest sanctions package to date, targeting what remains
of Iran’s oil sector – once Congress reconvenes from its monthlong summer
recess, sources told The Jerusalem Post.
The bill aims to bring Iranian
oil exports essentially down to zero within a year from full
Iran has already experienced a 60 percent decrease in oil
exports since 2011 due to sanctions.
And yet, despite Western efforts to
divorce Iran from its customers, the Persian state still exports more than a
million barrels a day. Because of the high price of oil, Iran experienced its
fourth best year on record for oil revenues in 2012.
customers – companies concentrated mostly in China, South Korea, India and
Turkey – will no longer be granted exemptions for their activities by the
Treasury Department if Wednesday’s legislation becomes law.
for diplomatic reasons, these companies were given a pass. But the exemptions
will expire after a yearlong grace period, during which Iran’s customers will
face the choice of finding oil elsewhere or being cut out of the US
The US says there is spare capacity in the global market to
replace Iran’s exports. Libyan oil production is back online since its
revolution ended in 2011, and Saudi Arabia is prepared to accommodate Iran’s
customers, with spare production capacity already at 2 million to 2.5 million
Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense
of Democracies in Washington, said that House members were keen on voting on the
bill before Rouhani’s Sunday inauguration, and said the legislation would
“massively intensify” ailing conditions in Iran.
Dubowitz noted that past
sanctions “tended to be frontloaded,” suggesting that Iran might experience the
impact of this new round by the end of the year.
“Everything is really
coming to a head in the next 12 months,” Dubowitz said.
On the House
floor during the debate on the bill, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) stood
nearly alone against his colleagues, saying that Rouhani ran his presidential
campaign “on a policy of promise to pursue a path of
“Obviously, we don’t have rose-colored glasses,” Ellison
said, calling on the chamber to wait for a round of negotiations with the new
“Why don’t we wait and see?” Rep. David Price
(D-North Carolina) joined Ellison in opposing the bill.
“The bill before
us today could not come at a worse time,” Price charged, noting that he has
voted previously in favor of harsh sanctions against Iran. The bill “could slam
the opportunity shut” to test the genuineness of Rouhani’s overtures, he
Eliot Engel (D-New York), ranking member of the House Foreign
Affairs Committee, noted that his committee had shown unanimous, bipartisan
support for the bill.
“I have no reason to believe that the results of
the recent Iranian election will fundamentally alter Iran’s current course,”
Engel said in his speech on the floor, charging that Rouhani “was directly
involved in efforts to deceive the international community when he served as
Iran’s chief negotiator.”
House Speaker John Boehner called the sanctions
“strong and targeted,” and said they provided the president with the “political
and economic tools” required to tighten the screws on the Iranian
In an unusual sight, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
joined Boehner on the floor to voice support for the legislation.
bill, H.R. 850, had 375 cosponsors in the 435-member body. But the Obama
administration, which in previous rounds had pushed for exemptions for Chinese
and Turkish companies, has voiced reservations in recent days over the timing
and consequences of some of the bill’s strictest provisions.
how Rouhani will act in his first months as president, Obama would like to give
him time, officials say. And the threatened expiration of exemptions may not
intimidate Chinese companies, forcing the US to make decisions that would harm
its own economy or, alternatively, renege on the law’s requirements, weakening
America’s diplomatic clout.
In a statement to the Post, the White House
says it still has “some concerns over the specific contents of the legislation”
and hopes to work on fixing those in the Senate draft.
inauguration, we hope President-elect Rouhani and the Iranian government will
engage substantively with the international community to reach a diplomatic
solution to Iran’s nuclear program,” said Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for the
National Security Council. “We and our international partners remain ready to
meet at the earliest opportunity once Iran is prepared to do so.”
continue to work with Congress on all sanctions legislation concerning Iran,”
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told journalists the day before the vote,
calling the administration’s sanctions regimen against Iran
The State Department declined to comment on the specific
“Iran is increasingly cut off from the global financial
system,” Psaki continued. “Significant amounts of Iranian oil are coming off the
market. The Iranian currency is plummeting in value. And firms all over the
world are divesting themselves of business with Iran.”
China stands to
lose the most from the new legislation. Iran remains its third-largest source of
oil after Saudi Arabia and Angola, and the companies that facilitate that trade
have major assets in the United States. PetroChina, China’s largest oil
producer, is one such company listed on the New York Stock
These Chinese firms have repeatedly voiced their opposition to
extraterritorial sanctions and to taking orders from the United
The House bill also targets other loopholes in the current
sanctions regimen, including foreign exchange reserves that have allowed Iran to
deal in euros. It also targets Iranian shipping with stricter inspection and
The US and European Union have increased sanctions
pressure on Iran significantly since early 2012, seeking a diplomatic solution
to the Islamic Republic’s pursuit of nuclear technology.
believes Iran is developing the capability to build nuclear weapons through
converging uranium enrichment and weaponization programs.