Iran's national flags are seen on a square in Tehran, Iran..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – A bill that would sanction Iran over its ballistic missile program, its support for proxy terrorist groups and its human rights abuses passed through a US Senate committee last week with bipartisan support, and now stands a good chance of becoming law, despite warnings from Iran that such an act would scuttle its nuclear deal with world powers.
The bill, titled the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017, would target what diplomats and lawmakers characterize as Iran’s “nonnuclear” activity – programs of concern to the US government that are not directly related to its nuclear work.
The nuclear deal reached in 2015 between Iran and the US, the UK, France, Russia, China and Germany required the US to suspend all nuclear-related sanctions – and commit not to pass those same sanctions under a different name. But the US is allowed in general terms to continue its nonnuclear sanctions and to expand upon them.
Several individuals and organizations engaged in Iran’s nonnuclear activity – its missile work and its proxy warfare – are also involved in its nuclear program, and thus would face sanctions once again after receiving relief from the nuclear accord. Thus the bill challenges lawmakers to delineate their new sanctions from the old ones, and opens the Trump administration up to a diplomatic crisis with Iran should it choose to support the legislation.
The White House has not explicitly endorsed the legislation, but has said on several occasions that it intends to “isolate” Iran and crack down on its “malign behavior” region-wide.
“We can no longer allow the nuclear agreement with Iran to dictate US policy throughout the Middle East, and this bill is an important first step in finally holding Iran accountable for their nonnuclear destabilizing activities,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), who pioneered the legislation supported by fellow committee members Sens. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), Marco Rubio (R-Florida), Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania).
“The Iranian regime, and its clients and proxies, should take from this legislation that while we will continue to fulfill US obligations pursuant to the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], we remain committed to pushing back on Iran’s ballistic missile program, support for terrorism, violations of the arms embargo and human rights abuses against its own citizens,” said Cardin, the committee’s ranking member.
The National Iranian American Council, an organization which fervently supported the nuclear deal, said the bipartisan Senate group had “decided to give Donald Trump new tools to kill the Iran deal and stumble into war with Iran.”
“Today, in close meeting, Senate Democrats are going to mark up Iran sanctions bill that will likely kill the Iran deal and pave way for war,” Trita Parsi, founder and president of NIAC, wrote on Twitter.
Trump calls for peace in the region, tougher line against Iran (credit: REUTERS)
Similarly, John Kerry, the former US secretary of state who negotiated the accord, warned the Senate against proceeding with the legislation, in his first “tweet storm” since leaving office.
“This is a time to tread carefully,” Kerry wrote. “After Rouhani’s reelection, there is much up in the air/room for misinterpretation. This is not the moment for a new Iran bill.”
Nevertheless, the bill is receiving support from Democrats who backed the nuclear deal when it was first announced.
The legislation passed through Senate mark-up by a vote of 18 to 3.
“The Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee made important amendments to remove two problematic provisions from the legislation,” said Dylan Williams, vice president of government affairs with J Street, an American-Jewish lobby that has strongly supported the nuclear accord.
Those changes, Williams asserted, “ensure that the bill does not violate the important and successful JCPOA nuclear agreement.”
Several other American-Jewish and Israel advocacy organizations, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, are supporting the bill.
“This bill is directed only at actions outside the nuclear sphere – in no way does it violate the letter or spirit of the 2015 nuclear deal,” AIPA C said in a statement.