WASHINGTON – The US Senate voted overwhelmingly on Thursday for a bill that would punish Iran for its ballistic missile activity, its human rights record and support for proxy terrorist organizations worldwide – its first legislative attack against the Islamic Republic since a landmark nuclear deal was reached among world powers and its government two years ago.
Passage of the bill should have no effect on the nuclear deal, argue its authors, who aim to target “non-nuclear” Iranian behavior deemed a threat to the region by Republicans and Democrats alike. But Iranian officials have warned the act may well threaten the accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as it would levy sanctions against some individuals and bodies promised relief under the deal.
Several entities that were once targeted by nuclear sanctions are also involved in Iran’s non-nuclear “malign” behavior, creating a challenge for lawmakers to delineate and explain their targets.
The bill now proceeds to the House of Representatives, where is likely to pass it in similar form. US President Donald Trump has not commented on the legislation, nor have his aides committed his signature to it.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson requested “flexibility” in any future sanctions legislation from Congress when testifying on Capitol Hill this week. The State Department is currently undergoing two major reviews of Iran policy: One of the nuclear deal specifically, and another of US policy toward Tehran generally.
After a warming of ties between the Rouhani government and the Obama administration during the nuclear talks, Tillerson has yet to reach out to his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, he said. He expects they will speak “at the right time.”
Out of 100 members, 98 senators voted in favor of the legislation, which also included new sanctions against Russia. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky voted against.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which pushed for the legislation, praised its Senate passage as a demonstration to Congress’ continued “engagement” on the matter. Meanwhile, the National Iranian American Council, which supports the nuclear deal, said the bill amounted to a “new toy” with which Trump could “wreak havoc” in the Middle East.