This bill, introduced last session as the ‘Iran Threat Reduction Act of 2011,’ was subsequently combined with the Syria Human Rights Accountability Act (S. 2034 of 1/24/12). It is the most major expansion of sanctions on Iran in recent years and represents the culmination of multiple efforts throughout the 112th Congress.
The bill seeks to create a comprehensive strategy that includes economic sanctions, diplomacy, and military planning, capabilities, and options. The bill’s premise is that denying Iran a nuclear weapon is critical for U.S. security interests. Rather than significantly increasing pressure, this bill expands and streamlines the existing program by blocking avenues Iran had been using to circumvent previous sanctions.
The Iran component of the bill seeks to curtail Iran’s nuclear program by expanding existing sanctions on the Iranian shipping and energy sectors and individuals involved with Iran’s energy, banking, and finance sectors; with human rights abuses; or with the nuclear program. The new sanctions also cover individuals involved in deals with individuals responsible for the shipping and transportation of weapons of mass destruction, the materials to create them, and materials transferred to foreign terrorist organizations.
The bill also authorizes increased U.S. assistance to Iranian opposition groups and tightens sanctions against members of the Revolutionary Guard. It requires the president to create a list of Iranian government officials who are involved in illicit nuclear activities or who support international terror or the commission of serious human rights abuses, subjecting all individuals on the list (and their families) to sanctions and barring their entry to the U.S. The bill restricts the president’s ability to waive these new sanctions by requiring a case-by-case assessment and reporting to Congress.
This new sanctions program does maintain the loophole for the 20 countries that significantly reduced their oil purchases from Iran. The bill calls for development of additional incentives for purchase of crude oil outside of Iran, expanded efforts to limit import of Iranian crude oil from the international community, and elimination of revenue generated from trade on Iranian crude oil in other countries.
The bill was the subject of election-year partisan politics. In May of 2011, the Senate version was held up by Republican senators who wished to increase the sanctions’ severity. On 5/17/12, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) brought an updated version of the bill to the floor for a vote, but Republicans blocked it, reneging on private agreements. It was at that point, during last-minute negotiations, that Republican senators expanded the scope of the bill’s new sanctions beyond the Iranian oil industry to cover the banking and finance sectors, thus making passage possible. (Sen. Jim Demint [R-SC] framed the new sanctions as a defense of Israel.) Reporting on the bill’s passage, the Tehran Times commented that the ‘US Congress is in the hands of the Israel Lobby.’ This bill was a major focus for the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC), NORPAC, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).
For the Syria portion of this bill, see S. 2034 of 1/24/12
364 cosponsors (218R, 146D)
See also: H. Res. 750 of 8/1/12 and S. 2034 of 1/24/12.
Last major action: 8/10/12 became public law 112-158 (5/21/12 passed in Senate by voice vote; 12/14/11 passed in House 410–11).