WASHINGTON – The House is poised to pass bipartisan legislation that would hit Iran with new sanctions for its pursuit of long-range ballistic missiles and block the flow of money to Hezbollah militants as lawmakers aim for a tougher stance against Tehran without derailing the 2015 international nuclear accord.
Votes are scheduled for later Wednesday. The Iran sanctions bill, sponsored by Reps. Ed Royce and Eliot Engel requires the Trump administration to identify for sanctions the companies and individuals inside and outside of Iran that are the main suppliers of Tehran’s ballistic missile programs.
Royce, a California Republican, is chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Engel of New York is the panel’s top Democrat. Both opposed the nuclear agreement when it was forged two years ago, but neither lawmaker is in favor of ditching the deal now as President Donald Trump has threatened to do.
The nuclear deal, according to Engel, doesn’t prevent Congress from “slapping sanctions on Iran for its behavior,” which he said ranges from developing and testing ballistic missiles to supporting terrorism and violating human rights.
The Hezbollah bill, also sponsored by Royce and Engel, directs the Trump administration to sanction the people and businesses engaged in fundraising and recruitment activities for the group. Hezbollah is a member of Lebanon’s coalition government and the House measure touched off alarms in Beirut, where officials feared major damage might be done to the country’s banking sector if the bill is signed into law.
But Joseph Torbey, head of the Association of Banks in Lebanon, told reporters earlier this week that U.S. officials have reassured a Lebanese banking delegation that visited Washington recently the sanctions won’t target Lebanese banks as long as they abide by American regulations.
Washington considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization and has previously imposed sanctions on the group and its top commanders. The expected new sanctions come at a time when the Trump administration is increasing pressure on Iran, Hezbollah’s main backer that has been supplying the group with weapons and money for more than three decades.
The House also will vote on a measure sponsored by Reps. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., and Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., calling on the president to push for the U.N. Security Council to impose international sanctions against Hezbollah for the group’s use of civilians as human shields.
The House votes come less than two weeks after Trump refused to certify that Iran is complying with the international accord to prevent Iran from assembling an arsenal of atomic weapons. But Trump, breaking his campaign pledge to rip up the agreement, did not pull the U.S. out or re-impose nuclear sanctions against Iran.
Trump instead punted the issue to Congress, instructing lawmakers to toughen the law that governs U.S. participation in the deal and calling on the other parties to the accord to fix a series of deficiencies. If they can’t, Trump said he would likely pull the U.S. out of the deal and reinstate previously lifted U.S. sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program. That would probably be a fatal blow for the pact between Iran and world powers.
As lawmakers debate how to meet Trump’s demands, they’re also moving to curb what they’ve called Iran’s reckless and destabilizing behavior.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said Congress has the opportunity to proceed on a “dual track” to hold Iran accountable for its “non-nuclear illicit activity while also looking to address our concerns with the nuclear deal. They are not mutually exclusive.”
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