In addition to strengthening enforcement of the existing sanctions program, this bill would expand sanctions on Iran’s energy and financial sectors and human rights violators. It would also restrict the president’s ability to waive existing sanctions, impose sanctions on Iranian mining, and, for the first time, apply secondary sanctions to any entity that maintains commercial ties with Iran. Taken together, these measures constitute the most drastic increase in pressure on Iran that the House considered this session.
Additionally, the bill would enhance congressional oversight of the sanctions program and officially label the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a foreign terrorist organization.
Furthermore, in order to close the ‘Euro Loophole,’ this bill would limit Iran’s access to its foreign exchange reserves, particularly those held in Euros. That loophole was one of the last ways Iran had been able to circumvent previous U.S. sanctions. The bill would also express Congress’s view that the president should pressure European countries to restrict Iran’s access to the Euro (see S. 892 of 5/8/13 for more on the ‘Euro loophole’).
In terms of congressional oversight, the bill would direct the secretary of state to submit 2 reports to Congress: one examining the hypothetical timetable for Iran to produce a nuclear weapon and the other analyzing the efficacy of the sanctions program. The bill would also require the president to develop a ‘national strategy’ on Iran which would explore Iranian vulnerabilities and address Iran’s economic strategy.
One minor measure included in this bill that is noteworthy for conveying the overall climate in Congress stipulates that the secretary of state should hire a special coordinator for women’s human rights and political participation in Iran.
Generating support for the bill was a major focus of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, held on 3/3–3/5, and of NORPAC’s lobby day on 5/8, and AIPAC featured the proposed law prominently on its website. Its passage by the House Foreign Affairs Cmte. on 5/22 garnered a supportive note from Israeli PM Netanyahu’s office. Over 4,200 attendees lobbied Congress in favor of this bill at the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) annual conference lobbying day (7/24). On 8/23, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs began circulating a petition in support of the bill and urged the Senate to pass it. By mid-October, it had collected over 5,000 signatures and the support of numerous American Jewish organizations.
In a letter addressed to congressional leadership and circulated in the media, a group of Democrats requested a postponement of a vote on the bill from 7/31 to 8/4 in order to provide time for a diplomatic overture to Iran on the inauguration of its new president, Hassan Ruhani. House leadership ignored their efforts and the bill was passed on 7/31. (Following President Ruhani’s address to the UN General Assembly on 9/24, AIPAC sent out a call for reenergized support of this bill.)
While Pres. Obama did not take a public stand on the bill, administration officials commented that the timing of its passage could negatively affect diplomatic efforts. Throughout 10/2013, the administration focused its efforts on delaying the Senate vote on new sanctions. On 10/29, administration staffers met with officials from AIPAC, the Anti-Discrimination League (ADL), and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in order to ask for a 60-day reprieve from lobbying in favor of this bill. At first, the ADL agreed to the temporary break, only to reverse its position on 11/13 after details emerged from the renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks under Secy. Kerry’s leadership. AIPAC and the AJC rejected the administration’s initiative from the outset.
Though Senate leaders never brought the bill to the floor for consideration, the Senate did consider similar legislation increasing sanctions on Iran. See S. 1197 of 6/20/13 and S. 1881 of 1