Iran Sanctions Over Support for Hezbollah Pass U.S. House

Updated on
  • House passes two sanctions bills; third vote planned Thursday
  • Measures are unrelated to sanctions over nuclear program

Tillerson Calls on Europe to Back New Iran Sanctions

The U.S. House passed new sanctions in response to Iran’s support for Hezbollah, part of a legislative package that stops short of addressing the Islamic Republic’s compliance with the multinational accord designed to curb its nuclear program.

Two bills received bipartisan support Wednesday and represent the first action from Congress against Iran since President Donald Trump earlier this month refused to certify the country is complying with the terms of the nuclear pact. A third measure addressing ballistic missiles is set for a vote Thursday.

Trump demanded a tougher stance from Congress that could include renegotiating or pulling out of the Joint Plan of Comprehensive Action, as the Iran nuclear deal is formally known. The legislation doesn’t meet Trump’s request for trigger points that would automatically reimpose sanctions unless Iran meets a list of U.S. demands, including to curb its ballistic missile program.

The sanctions aren’t the most effective way to change Iran’s behavior but could be the best political solution to balance Trump’s demands with U.S. international commitments, said John Glaser, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian research group in Washington.

“If Congress handles this delicately, avoids reimposing nuclear sanctions -- which would constitute a violation of the deal itself -- imposes some harsh sanctions that sound really tough and placate Trump, then this seems plausibly like the best way out of this impasse that the president has put us in,” Glaser said.

Nuclear Pact

Iranian officials have said there is no room to renegotiate the nuclear deal. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week Iran wouldn’t move first to abandon the nuclear deal but “will tear it to pieces” if the U.S. violates its side of the agreement.

Even with non-nuclear sanctions eroding some of the economic benefits Iran should see from the nuclear deal, Iran is likely to hold on to the deal unless the U.S. takes more explicit action on nuclear sanctions, according to Behnam Ben Taleblu, senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“Ultimately Iran has the highest threshold for pain” because it wants to preserve the international legitimacy conferred by the Iran deal, Behnam said.

Congress in July passed a sanctions package to impose penalties on Iran, as well as Russia and North Korea. Trump signed off on the legislation. The bill to be voted on Thursday, H.R. 1698, would expand those Iran sanctions and require the administration to create an implementation plan.

This bill also imposes additional sanctions on individuals or entities that help Iran develop ballistic missiles and other conventional weapons, but doesn’t apply to any nuclear activity. Sanctions options include freezing U.S. assets, denying entry into the U.S., barring imports and exports, restrictions from participating in federal contracts and imposing criminal or civil penalties.

One bill passed Wednesday by voice vote, H.R. 3329, would require the administration to impose penalties on entities, including financial institutions and foreign government agencies, that support Hezbollah, considered by the U.S. to be a terrorist organization. The Shiite Muslim political and military organization in Lebanon has received support from the Shiite government in Iran.

According to the U.S. State Department, Iran’s listing as a state sponsor of terrorism is based, in part, on its support of Hezbollah.

Also passed by voice vote was H.R. 3342, which would direct the president to impose economic sanctions on members of Hezbollah who have used human shields, and bar those individuals from entering the U.S. The legislation lays out actions by the administration that would be required to identify and punish Shiite militants that orchestrated the use of civilians as cover in armed conflicts.

The House also adopted a resolution to express appreciation for support from the European Union for countering Hezbollah’s “criminal and terrorist activities.”

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
    LEARN MORE