The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to renew a piece of legislation that would threaten Iran with sanctions if it were to violate its nuclear agreement and to impose new sanctions on Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria.
The bipartisan Iran Sanctions Extensions Act was sponsored by Republican chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce and Eliot Engel, the committee’s top Democrat. It passed 419-1, demonstrating a large base of support in the House for new sanctions against Syria (while dozens of Democrats voted for the bill, many more abstained).
The bill authorizes the U.S. to impose new sanctions on Iran if it does not adhere to the 2015 nuclear deal. It was first enacted in 1996 and has been extended several times. The newest extension of the bill would last until 2026.
“Now is not the time to ease up on the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism,” said Republican Leonard Lance. “Sanctions work.”
The bill will now move on to the Senate, where it is expected to pass to the White House.
“We’re going to take up the House bill, and we’re going to pass it”, said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at a news conference for the Senate Republican leadership.
Although the successful negotiations to curb Iran’s nuclear project is often viewed as one of the signature achievements of Obama’s foreign policy record, the deal has been criticized by many Republicans who seek a more aggressive U.S. policy towards Iran. Some also fear that a Trump presidency would threaten the future of the deal.
Members of Congress said they wanted to reinstate the ISA to send a message that the U.S. will not tolerate provocations by Iran, as well as to guarantee the president’s power to quickly reinstate sanctions in the event of a violation of the nuclear agreement.
“[The ISA’s] expiration would compound the damage done by the president’s dangerous nuclear deal and send a message that the United States will no longer oppose the destructive role of Iran in the Middle East,” said Royce.
White House representatives have said that with the nuclear agreement in place for over a year, they did not believe the reinstatement was necessary. They did not, however, indicate that a renewal of the ISA would violate the deal’s terms. The White House signaled earlier this year that President Obama would renew the legislation.
The legislation on Syria targets backers of Bashar Al-Assad, including Russia and Iran. It would require the president to penalize states or companies that provide money or do business with Syria’s government.
“What we have now is a grim lesson in human suffering,” said Royce, referring to the ongoing war in Syria.
“We can see the ethnic cleansing going on. Even the United Nations calls this ‘crimes of historic proportions.’ Enough’s enough.”
Assad’s government have been accused of war crimes for its use of chemical weapons, including incendiary bombs and chlorine gas. Russia is the primary supplier of the aircraft used to bombard rebel-held districts in Aleppo since September, while Iran has provided soldiers, money and equipment on the ground.
Sanctions would be imposed upon anyone who does business with commercial airlines or state-controlled sectors of the economy in Syria.
“We want to go after the things driving the war machine: money, airplanes, spare parts, oil,” said Engel. “Something needs to jolt this crisis out of its bloody status quo. This bill would give the administration more tools to do so.”
“If you’re acting as a lifeline to the Assad regime, you risk getting caught up in the net of our sanctions,” he said.
Under the legislation, sanctions would be suspended in the event of an internationally recognized cessation of hostilities against civilians as part of a lasting peace accord.
“Even after a hard-fought election here at home and power changing hands,” added Engel, “American leadership on the global stage won’t falter.”