Congress passes new Iran sanctions


WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passed expansive new Iran sanctions.

The sanctions passed June 24 in both houses —  99-0 in the Senate and 408-8 in the House of Representatives — and now go to President Obama for signing.

They expand existing sanctions targeting investment in Iran’s energy sector to encompass trade with the energy escort and business with the banking sector.

"This legislation tells Iran and its trading partners that the United States means business about stopping Iran’s illicit nuclear activities,” Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement. "It greatly strengthens our nation’s overall sanctions regime regarding Iran, increasing the prospects that Iran will finally bear serious costs for its blatant defiance of the international community."

In her floor speech recommending a vote in favor, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House Speaker, said "members of Congress, regardless of party, agree: a nuclear Iran is simply unacceptable. It is a threat to the region, to the United States and to our allies across the globe."

By adding tough new reporting requirements, the enhanced sanctions also considerably restrict the president’s ability to ignore the sanctions; Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama all bypassed the earlier sanctions passage passed in 1996.

Congress resisted a blanket exemption by Obama in the new sanctions bill for countries that have joined the United States in multilateral sanctions through the U.N. Security Council. The lawmakers, however, did grant the president a 12-month waiver, with the stipulation that he explain to Congress the reasons for waiving the sanctions and peridoically report whether the sanctions-busters are falling into line.

The new sanctions also incorporate language introduced by Reps. Ron Klein (D-Fla.), Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) targeting businesses that contract to the U.S. government. Such businesses now must certify that they do not do business with Iran. The language drew support following revelations that the U.S. government had done at least $107 billion in recent years with contractors that do business with Iran.The enhanced sanctions also target human rights abusers in Iran.

Jewish groups strongly praised the new sanctions. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which lobbied hard for passage, said it was "the toughest Iran sanctions bill ever to emerge from Congress and provides the best hope that political and economic measures can peacfully persuade Iran to end its illicit nuclear program before it is too late."

Noting the near unanimity, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said that "The numbers themselves send a message to Iran about the determination of the U.S. and our elected representatives not to allow Iran to secure a nuclear weapons capacity."

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