February 23, 2018

US lawmakers advance new Iran sanctions


WASHINGTON — The US House Foreign Affairs Committee approved legislation Wednesday to toughen sanctions on Tehran over its suspect nuclear program in the wake of an alleged Iranian assassination plot.

The panel endorsed the measure by voice vote, with Democrats and Republicans closing ranks in the wake of US allegations that Iranian officials schemed to hire Mexican drug cartel killers to murder Saudi Arabia’s envoy to Washington.

“There should be consequences to this type of behavior, and I believe the international community must stand up against this threat,” said the committee’s top Democrat, Representative Howard Berman.

US lawmakers aim to tighten already considerable sanctions on the Islamic republic, notably on its energy and banking sectors, in a bid to force a freeze to what the West argues is a covert nuclear weapons program.

The measure calls for new sanctions such as denying US visas to anyone involved in Iran’s oil or gas industries, toughening existing measures against weapons of mass destruction and an amendment authored by Berman aimed at cutting Iran’s central bank off from global financial markets.

Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the committee’s chairwoman, called on the full House and Senate to approve the legislation quickly to get it to President Barack Obama’s desk “in time to hand the Iranian regime a nice holiday present.”

Lawmakers amended their text to add measures targeting Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, blamed in the plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, and financial entities they control. The text also singled out individuals or foreign entities aiding the elite corps.

The panel also urged the Obama administration to press Iraq to postpone the closure of a camp housing thousands of outlawed Iranians until the United Nations grant political refugee status to those who want to avoid returning to Iran and place them in third countries.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Monday that his government was resolved to close down Camp Ashraf, northeast of the Iraqi capital, by year’s end.