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Senate passes new Iran sanctions

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. Senate passed a new Iran sanctions bill that would strengthen the existing sanctions regime and close loopholes.  

The Senate passed the Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Human Rights Act of 2012 by a voice vote on Monday ahead of Wednesday’s meeting between the six world powers and Iran in Baghdad. 

The bipartisan bill was sponsored by Senate Banking Committee chairman Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and ranking member Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). 

The House passed similar legislation in December by a bipartisan margin of 410-11. 

Among other things, the Senate bill targets 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 with technology to repress its citizens. 

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

It also for the first time in actionable legislation defines the capability of building a nuclear weapon as posing a threat to the United States. "Capability" is Israel’s red line, while for years the U.S. red line has been "acquisition." The "capability" red line has appeared in recent months in non-binding legislation.

Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) last week blocked consideration of the legislation because they wanted tougher language on the use of military force as an option to stop a nuclear-armed Iran. 

Negotiations over the weekend resulted in a reference to "military planning, capabilities and options" as tools available to keep Iran from becoming nuclear capable.

The bill also includes an amendment sought by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) making it clear that the measure is not an authorization for war.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), a chief proponent of Iran sanctions, released a statement praising the action. 

“Today the U.S. Senate put Iranian leaders on notice that they must halt all uranium enrichment activities or face another round of economic sanctions from the United States,” said Kirk, who is in Chicago for rehabilitation from a stroke suffered in January. 

In December, Kirk and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), spearheaded language that was added to the National Defense Authorization Act that would place sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran. The amendment to the Defense Authorization Act passed 100-0. 

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee also praised passage of the legislation and urged the potential conference committee to resolve any differences between the House and Senate versions. 

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