Just before leaving on their long summer recess, the House of Representatives will put forward a series of bills imposing new sanctions on Iran— a symbolic effort to shine light on Iran’s illicit behavior and alleged violations of the nuclear deal the Obama administration signed one year ago.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will bring three Iran-related bills to the floor before the House adjourns on July 14, exactly one year after the Iran nuclear agreement was announced. All three are expected to pass with members voting along party lines. There are no plans for the Senate to take them up as of now. The timing also coincides with new reports from the German intelligence services that Iran continues to conduct “illegal proliferation-sensitive procurement activities” at a “quantitatively high level.”
The main bill, sponsored by McCarthy, would impose new sanctions on Iran and any country that supports its illicit activities in response to Iran’s continued development and testing of its ballistic missile program, its support for terrorism and its ongoing violations of human rights. The legislation would require the U.S. government to sanction companies that aid Iran’s ballistic missile program and apply terrorism sanctions to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.-Quds Force as well as to companies that aid it, including Iran’s Mahan Air.
“The Administration has demonstrated that they do not intend to hold Iran accountable for their dangerous and destabilizing ballistic missile program, global terrorism activities, and atrocious human rights violations that are committed against their own people,” McCarthy told me in a statement. “We want to penalize the Iranian government for their continued illegal activity.”
The second bill the House will vote on is sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and would state that the policy of the United States is to deny the Iranian government and Iranian banks access to U.S. dollars. The administration has said it won’t allow Iran to do business in dollars through the U.S. financial system, but Royce’s bill would seek to prevent Iran from using dollars even offshore.
Royce told me that Iran “has no business gaining access to the U.S. dollar. Iran’s supreme leader can’t be allowed to seek ‘death to America’ with U.S. dollars in his pocket.”
The third bill to be passed by Congress is meant to prevent any U.S. government entity from purchasing heavy water from Iran. The Energy Department said in April it will purchase 32 metric tons of heavy water, which is used in nuclear material production, from Iran this year. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), the bill’s sponsor, told me the purchase gives U.S. taxpayer money to the Iranian regime.
“The Obama administration is acting outside the requirements of the nuclear deal — sending millions of dollars to the Iranian regime. This money makes the United States an active partner in Iran’s nuclear program,” he said.
The State Department has maintained that Iran is meeting its commitments to the nuclear agreement, even in light of the new German intelligence reports about ballistic missile program procurement. State Department spokesman John Kirby said that although the German report says Iran sought nuclear dual-use technology, it does not say whether that was before or after the agreement was signed last July.
“We have no information to indicate that Iran has procured any materials in violation of the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action],” Kirby said last week. “More generally, the [International Atomic Energy Agency] has reported that Iran continues to implement its nuclear-related commitments under the deal. We understand that Germany shares this view and is not suggesting that Iran has violated its JCPOA commitments.”
The German allegations are just the latest in a long list of examples of Iran either skirting the prohibitions in the deal or ramping up its illicit activities in areas the deal does not explicitly cover. Congress cannot force the administration to address these issues, but it can force Democrats into an uncomfortable vote heading into the election and set the table for more action this fall.