Bipartisan HFAC bill targets Iran missile, drone program ahead of U.N. embargo’s expiration

The bill codifies sanctions on Iran’s missile program and requests a strategy to seek the renewal of the U.N. restrictions on Iran’s drone and missile program, set to expire in October

Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, left, and ranking member Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., talk before the House Foreign Affairs Committee markup hearing in the Capitol Visitor Center on Friday, March 24, 2023.

Democratic and Republican leaders on the House Foreign Affairs Committee introduced a bill on Tuesday that takes aim at Iran’s production and exports of missiles and drones, with an eye toward the soon-to-expire United Nations restrictions on Iran’s missile program.

The U.N. Security Council placed restrictions on Iran’s sale, purchase and transfer of ballistic missiles and drones in 2015, in connection with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action reached between world powers and Iran, but those limits are set to expire in October. In recent years, in violation of the U.N. restrictions, Iran has transferred banned technology to Russia, Ethiopia and proxies like the Houthis in Yemen and militias in Iraq. 

The Fight and Combat Rampant Iranian Missile Exports (Fight CRIME) Act levies additional sanctions on Iran and asks the administration to outline a strategy to prevent the U.N. restrictions from expiring. It is sponsored by Reps. Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Gregory Meeks (D-NY), the chair and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee respectively, and Reps. Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Dean Phillips (D-MN), the chair and ranking member of the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia subcommittee.

“Even with the UN restrictions in place, Iran’s missiles and drones are targeting U.S. troops, allies, and partners across the Middle East and increasingly fueling Vladimir Putin’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine,” the legislation’s sponsors said in a joint statement. “Without urgent action, Iran’s missiles and drones could wreak even greater havoc around the globe come October.”

The bill would impose sanctions on any individuals involved with Iran’s missile program — including helping Iran acquire or deploy missile and drone technology; providing technology or components for missiles to Iran; participating in joint missile or drone development; training Iran-aligned individuals in missile or drone deployment; storing or transporting Iranian missiles or drones; or importing or exporting missile or drone technology into or out of Iran.

Adult family members of designated individuals and those who provide support to sanctioned individuals or engage in “a significant transaction” with them would also be sanctioned. Sanctions would include asset and property freezes and visa bans and revocations.

Such sanctions would remain in effect until the administration can certify to Congress that the Iranian government “no longer repeatedly provides support for international terrorism” and has “ceased the pursuit, acquisition and development of and verifiably dismantled” its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs and its ballistic missiles and missile launch technology.

“We are proud to introduce the Fight CRIME Act to constrain Iran’s arsenal, deter malign actors from supporting Iran and its proxies, and keep these dangerous weapons from proliferating onto new battlefields, regardless of whether UN restrictions remain in place,” the sponsors said.

Jason Brodsky, the policy director of United Against Nuclear Iran, told Jewish Insider that the bill shows that “Congress is really trying to raise the importance and the visibility of the coming expiration” of the U.N. restrictions.

“The United States and the E3 have not publicly articulated a strategy as to how it plans to deal with that sunset provision,” Brodsky said. “It’s a very crucial provision, because, let’s remember, that’s the very provision that the U.S. and the E3 have been trying to use to hold Iran accountable for its provision of illegal drones to Russia.”

The E3 refers to the United Kingdom, Germany and France, the three European signatories to the JCPOA.

Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who authored an FDD monograph on Iran’s missile program, said that the bill also sends a “critical deterrent message against those who may have counted on hyper-partisanship in impeding America’s will to counter and punish the full range of non-nuclear, aerial and missile threats” — highlighting bipartisan support for the legislation.

Taleblu said it could deter Iran from ramping up its missile production and those who had hoped to “cash in” on weapons transfers ahead of the looming deadline.

The Fight Crime Act would direct the administration to submit to Congress a strategy on how it plans to ensure the renewal of the U.N. embargo and/or deter the sale and transfer of missile technology absent the renewal. The strategy would include information on how the end of the embargo would impact Iranian weapons proliferation and the benefits Iran would receive from the expiration of the restrictions.

Rich Goldberg, a senior adviser at FDD (and co-host of JI’s Limited Liability podcast), told JI that “the real eye-catcher here is the mandate for the Biden administration to outline its strategy for preventing the U.N. missile embargo from expiring in October.”

“The truth is that the only way to stop the missile embargo from expiring is to snap back U.N. sanctions on Iran — something the administration does not currently support,” Goldberg said. “McCaul and Meeks know this already but they’re offering the administration a path to justify snapback before unleashing bipartisan outrage closer to the sunset in October.”

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. attempted to initiate a unilateral device in the JCPOA allowing any participant to reimpose U.N. sanctions on Iran, but the effort was rejected by other participants, citing the American withdrawal from the deal.

Brodsky explained that the only way to initiate the snapback sanctions would be through action by the E3, who have been reluctant to do so out of a desire to maintain a framework for diplomacy.

The bill, Taleblu added, would “get the Biden administration on the record as to what is [their] theory of the case for snapback,” but predicted that, short of Iran stockpiling uranium at 90% purity, he did not see the administration or the E3 supporting snapback sanctions.

The legislation also requests a list of foreign individuals involved in violating the U.N. restrictions, details on the supply chains that aid Iran’s drone and missile program and the role of Iranian airlines in missile and drone proliferation.

The requested strategy would also include information on how the U.N. and other multilateral organizations, as well as individual U.N. Security Council member states, have responded to violations of the U.N. restrictions, and how Russia, China and other states have “interfere[d]” with or “undermine[d]” the U.N. embargo.

The bill’s sponsorship by key members of the Foreign Affairs Committee suggests that it should, at minimum, have a smooth path to being approved by the committee.

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