on the hill

Bipartisan House bill seeks to counter Iranian hostage-taking

The legislation requires the administration to formulate a strategy to stop Iranian hostage-taking and bar travel to Iran on U.S. passports, among other steps

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi delivers a speech during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the outbreak of the devastating 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, in Tehran on September 22, 2023.

A bipartisan House bill introduced on Monday seeks to counter Iran’s practice of taking U.S. hostages, including pushing to bar ransom payments to U.S. adversaries and block U.S. passport holders from visiting Iran.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Middle East subcommittee, and Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-FL), a Democratic Iran hawk, comes following the Biden administration’s deal to free U.S. hostages in exchange for Iranians imprisoned in the U.S. and $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds.

It requires the administration to formulate and submit to Congress a strategy for preventing hostage-taking by U.S. adversaries, “including identifying penalties for wrongful detention and hostage-taking, identifying clear United States Government policies barring the payment of ransom or transactions that could be viewed as ransom, and detailing plans to coordinate with United States allies and partners on such strategy.”

The bill would also require the State Department to determine annually whether to declare U.S. passports invalid for travel to Iran, due to concerns that such visits present an “imminent  danger to the public health and physical safety of United States travelers stemming from the threat of wrongful detention.”

It further requires the administration to deny visas to visit the United Nations to any individual sanctioned under terrorism or weapons of mass destruction sanctions. 

The administration would also have to annually review Iran’s hostage-taking practices and identify to Congress any individuals involved in supporting that activity. The bill additionally requires that the administration to identify whether it is waiving applicable hostage-related sanctions on any such individual and explain why.

Regarding the recent prisoner exchange, the legislation requires reports every 160 days to Congress on the funds released, including itemized transaction lists, and certifications that the funds have not been used for non-humanitarian purposes or enabled the Iranian government to increase its spending on malign activities.

It also requires reports to Congress annually on all Iranian assets frozen under U.S. sanctions; on the reasons for any changes to such asset freezes; and on coordinated international efforts to identify, seize and/or freeze assets of sanctioned Iranian individuals and entities. It urges the U.S. to share intelligence and provide technical assistance to foreign governments to seize assets of sanctioned Iranian individuals and entities.

“The Iranian Regime continues to be the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism. This bill takes action, ensuring terrorists who take American citizens hostage are punished for their crimes, and not rewarded with financial incentives,” Wilson said in a statement. “It ensures that the oppressors of freedom in Iran do not get to visit the United States to enjoy the liberties here that they deprive their citizens of at home in Iran.”

Wilson’s statement indicates that the legislation specifically seeks to block Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi from visiting the U.N. Raisi’s visit last month to attend the U.N. General Assembly, raised the ire of numerous congressional Republicans, who urged the administration to deny the Iranian leader a visa.

“When Iran wrongfully detains one of our own, they must know that the U.S. will not sit back, we will take action and respond,” Moskowitz said in a statement.

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