Iran Sanctions Over Ballistic Missile Program Pass U.S. House

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. House on Thursday passed new sanctions in response to Iran’s ballistic missile program, while stopping short of addressing the Islamic Republic’s compliance with the multinational accord designed to curb its nuclear program.

The 423-2 vote was on the final bill in a legislative package adopted over two days, representing the first action from Congress against Iran since President Donald Trump earlier this month refused to certify the country is complying with the terms of the nuclear pact. The House passed two sanction bills on Wednesday, including one that imposes penalties on Iran for supporting Hezbollah. 

Trump previously called for a tougher stance from Congress that could include renegotiating or pulling out of the Joint Plan of Comprehensive Action, as the Iran nuclear deal is formally known. The legislation doesn’t give Trump what he requested: trigger points that would automatically reimpose the sanctions eased under the nuclear deal unless Iran meets a list of U.S. demands, including to curb its ballistic missile program.

Iranian officials have said there is no room to renegotiate the nuclear deal. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week Iran wouldn’t move first to abandon the nuclear deal but “will tear it to pieces” if the U.S. violates its side of the agreement.

Even with non-nuclear sanctions eroding some of the economic benefits Iran should see from the nuclear deal, Iran is likely to hold on to the deal unless the U.S. takes more explicit action on nuclear sanctions, according to Behnam Ben Taleblu, senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“Ultimately Iran has the highest threshold for pain” because it wants to preserve the international legitimacy conferred by the Iran deal, Behnam said.

Congress in July passed a sanctions package to impose penalties on Iran, as well as Russia and North Korea. Trump signed off on the legislation. The bill that passed on Thursday, H.R. 1698, would expand those Iran sanctions and require the administration to create an implementation plan.

Sanctions Options

This bill also would impose additional sanctions on individuals or entities that help Iran develop ballistic missiles and other conventional weapons, but wouldn’t apply to any nuclear activity. Sanctions options include freezing U.S. assets, denying entry into the U.S., barring imports and exports, restrictions from participating in federal contracts and imposing criminal or civil penalties.

One of the two bills passed on Wednesday, H.R. 3329, would require the administration to impose penalties on entities, including financial institutions and foreign government agencies, that support Hezbollah, considered by the U.S. to be a terrorist organization. The Shiite Muslim political and military organization in Lebanon has received support from the Shiite government in Iran.

According to the U.S. State Department, Iran’s listing as a state sponsor of terrorism is based, in part, on its support of Hezbollah.

The other bill passed on Wednesday, H.R. 3342, would direct the president to impose economic sanctions on members of Hezbollah who have used human shields, and bar those individuals from entering the U.S. The legislation spells out how the administration would be required to identify and punish Shiite militants that orchestrated the use of civilians as cover in armed conflicts.

Also Wednesday, a United Nations inspector said in a report that violations of human rights and oppression of dissidents, ethnic minorities and women in Iran “have continued in many areas and on a wide scale,” despite the re-election of President Hassan Rouhani.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.