sanctions push

Republican Study Committee pushes to strengthen Iran sanctions

The conservative caucus in Congress has rolled out a package of six Iran-related bills

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

Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla., speaks during the Republican Study Committee press conference on the RSCs FY2022 budget proposal in the Rayburn House Office Building on Wednesday, May 19, 2021.

The Republican Study Committee is pushing ahead with new legislation that aims to expand current U.S. sanctions on Iran and make it harder for the administration to lift them as part of any potential agreement with Iran.

The RSC, whose membership includes around 70% of the Republican conference, introduced a package of six bills in recent weeks that seeks to expand sanctions on the Iranian regime and its affiliates, and otherwise crack down on the Islamic republic. 

Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK), who chairs the RSC, told Jewish Insider the bills are aimed at “reinforcing” and strengthening the Trump-era sanctions regime targeting Iran, and accused the Biden administration of “appeasement.”

“Seeing the Biden administration try to circumvent Congress on what were bipartisan sanctions is really a total disrespect to Israel and all of our allies in the area,” Hern said.

A Republican staffer involved with the legislation said it stems in part from concerns that the administration is pursuing some form of “less-for-less” nuclear agreement with Iran that would involve less stringent conditions on Iran than the original nuclear 2015 deal but could make the U.S. sanctions regime “toothless.” The bills, the staffer said, would make it difficult for the administration to “give away the farm” in a negotiation.

The first bill, led by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), would require the president to assess whether sanctions could be applied to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other officials under an Obama-era human rights-related executive order. The bill would also mandate a series of reports to Congress on Iranian human rights abuses and the Iranian supreme leader’s financial situation.

The staffer explained that, while the individuals mentioned in the bill are sanctioned under other authorities, this bill would provide a further bulwark against any effort to lift sanctions on top Iranian leadership and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. They added that the bill would force the administration to explicitly make the case for lifting the sanctions — first promulgated under a Democratic administration — if it chose to waive them.

The second bill, led by Rep. Pat Fallon (R-TX), would require the administration to submit biannual reports on whether financial institutions based in, owned by or controlled by Iran or other state sponsors of terrorism attempt to conduct transactions with sanctioned entities.

The third bill, led by Rep. Bryan Steil (R-WI), would narrow presidential sanctions waiver authority such that sanctions on Iranian individuals and entities could only be lifted if the administration can certify that these entities have ceased engaging in terrorism. The staffer noted that such waivers were used by the Obama administration to lift various sanctions when the United States entered the Iran nuclear deal in 2015.

The fourth bill, led by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), would expand existing sanctions on the IRGC to include affiliates of the military branch. 

The fifth bill, led by Rep. Cory Mills (R-FL), would expand and solidify sanctions on Iran’s Mahan Air, which is already under sanctions because it has been used to aid Iranian terrorist activities, the staffer explained. The staffer predicted that a nuclear deal would likely involve lifting sanctions on the airline; this bill would require the administration to keep the sanctions in place unless it can certify that the airline is no longer involved in terrorism.

The final bill, led by Rep. John James (R-MI), would expand sanctions on entities providing financial services to the IRGC, as well as designate any agreement with Iran as a treaty, requiring Senate ratification. The staffer explained that the sanctions provisions primarily target banks in China and India that have provided support to the IRGC, and aims to cut off Chinese money to the IRGC.

Hern said that the RSC and the bills’ sponsors are looking at various ways to move the six bills forward, particularly attaching them to the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act for 2024. 

Hern noted that the Trump-era sanctions campaign targeting Iran had severely impacted the Iranian regime’s coffers and dissuaded foreign countries, particularly China, from purchasing American oil; he argued that the Biden administration had failed to stringently enforce these sanctions and that the flow of Iranian oil to China had since returned in force.

Hern said that Iran’s continued malign activities under those sanctions “shows you the soul, if you will, of the Iranian leadership, that they’re more determined to kill people around the world, including Americans and their own people for the sake of power.”

“That’s an evil relationship that they have with their own citizens,” Hern continued, “and eventually the citizens will rise up to rectify that situation in their own country.”

The staffer said the RSC has also plans to reintroduce the Maximum Pressure Act, the caucus’ premier Iran policy bill in the previous Congress, a sweeping 400-page package that would have expanded sanctions on Iran and limited the administration’s ability to roll them back.

The staffer explained, however, that the more targeted approach pursued in the new legislative push is a better fit for the new Republican majority, as the more targeted bills have a better chance of being attached to larger policy bills, like the NDAA.

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