Republicans in Congress to introduce biggest sanctions bill against Iran

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Republicans in Congress are poised to introduce a sanctions bill against Iran on Wednesday that will target its leaders, regional proxies and end economic waivers currently allowed in places such as Iraq.

The bill would be the largest punitive measures introduced against Iran by Congress.

The office of Congressman Joe Wilson, one of the proposal’s sponsors, confirmed to The National that it will include 140 initiatives against Iran and tighten pressure on Russia and China to step up their action against the regime.

The bill is timed as the administration seeks pressure to renew the UN arms embargo on Iran that will expire in October. According to the Washington Free Beacon, it would target an estimated $70 million (Dh257m) of annual security aid to Lebanon and sanctions waivers granted to Iraq that allow it to sell electricity to Iran.

The Republican Study Committee is behind the proposal – first reported by the Washington Free Beacon – which has 147 members in the House on board, including RSC chair Mike Johnson.

So far, no Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, have supported the bill, which

in its current form could also face hurdles from the administration of President Donald Trump.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has supported renewing waivers for Iraq, and continuing US military aid to Lebanon.

The bill would block any administration efforts to lift sanctions on Iran without Congress approval, and would impose more sanctions on its proxies in Iraq.

But the bill could offer the White House tools to pressure Russia and China into renewing the current UN arms embargo on Iran, expiring in October.

If the embargo is not renewed, Congress would “play a central role in crafting new embargoes on the sale of weapons to Iran", the Washington Free Beacon reported.

This would include "new sanctions on the arms industries of countries like Russia and China that return to selling weapons to Iran, the banks facilitating any sale of weapons to Iran, and the companies shipping weapons”, the paper said.

The bill would also halt US aid to Lebanon and sanction Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s “multibillion-dollar financial empire, as well as the country's petrochemical, financial and automotive sectors”, the report said.

Firas Maksad, a Middle East analyst in Washington and a professor at George Washington University, said the proposal is huge in its penalties but will face several hurdles.

“The proposed legislation is designed to be the mother of all sanctions bills, but its size and the multiplicity of thorny foreign policy issues it impacts means it will be hindered by political bickering,” Mr Maksad said.

“Republican foreign policy hawks in Congress believe it will be difficult for the administration to resist pressure for a tougher approach to Iran, Russia and China” in an election year.

But technically the bill could go through several amendments to win support from both parties in Congress.

“The legislation will need to navigate both chambers of congress and go through a reconciliation process," Mr Maksad said.

"If elements of it are ultimately signed into law, it will be after protracted negotiations and the inclusion of a presidential waiver, thereby allowing the president to suspend its provision on national security grounds when necessary."

Ryan Bohl, an analyst at the US intelligence company Stratfor, said he did not expect it to pass.

“It seems unlikely to pass, especially with the November election coming up and Democrats not wanting to look like they're creating overseas tension,” Mr Bohl said.

But the legislation could “pressure, even inspire, the Trump administration to tighten sanctions further before the election”, he said.

Mr Bohl said the emphasis on Lebanon and Iraq was significant in the proposal.

“Lebanon and Iraq are becoming a hawk priority," he said.

"The pro-sanctions community believes that they must crush Iran's links to those countries and are willing to risk US ties in Beirut and Baghdad to do so.”

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Coronavirus in Iran: in pictures

An Iranian sanitary worker disinfects Qom's Masumeh shrine on February 25, 2020 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. AFP

Iranian Firefighters disinfect streets in the capital Tehran in a bid to halt the wild spread of coronavirus on March 13, 2020. AFP

A nearly empty Hazrat Masumeh Shrine in Qom, Iran on March 1, 2020. AFP

Iranian Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi (left) wipes the sweat off his face, during a press conference with the Islamic republic's government spokesman Ali Rabiei in the capital Tehran on February 24, 2020. AFP

An image grab of footage obtained from Iranian State TV IRINN on February 25, 2020, shows Iran's deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi speaking in a video apparently shot by himself, regarding being infected with coronavirus. AFP

Iran's Azadi (Freedom) Tower is lit up with flags and messages of hope in solidarity with all the countries affected by the coronavirus pandemic, in Tehran on March 31, 2020. AFP

Iranian workers set up a makeshift hospital inside the Iran Mall, northwest of Tehran, on March 21, 2020 amid the coronavirus outbreak. - Iran said that 123 more people had died from coronavirus, raising the official death toll to 1,556 in the Islamic republic, one of the world's worst affected countries. AFP

Volunteers wearing protective clothing, take part in disinfecting a village during the coronavirus outbreak, in the outskirts of the city of Ghaemshahr, in north of Iran, on Wednesday, April 29, 2020. AP Photo

Shoppers clad in protective gear, including face masks and shields and latex gloves, due to the coronavirus pandemic, walk through the Tajrish Bazaar in Iran's capital Tehran on April 25, 2020. AFP

A customer wears a protective masks at a pharmacy in the Iranian capital Tehran on February 24, 2020. AFP

A Tehran Municipality worker cleans a bus to avoid the spread of Covid-19 on February 26, 2020. AFP

A man stands by the closed gate outside the Imamzadeh Saleh in the Iranian capital Tehran's Shemiran district on April 25, 2020 . AFP

Labourers unloading medical equipment and coronavirus testing kits provided by the World Health Organisation, from a UAE military transport plane upon their arrival at Mehrabad International Airport in Iran's capital Tehran. AFP

Updated: June 10, 2020 10:31 AM

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