Late Wednesday evening, the House and Senate both passed new legislation increasing sanctions on Iran, sending the bill to the president's desk for his signature.
The Senate passed the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act by unanimous consent and the House passed it 421-6. The bill closes several loopholes in the current sanctions regime and provides for additional penalties against entities that aid Iran's petroleum, petrochemical, insurance, shipping, and financial sectors. The bill is a compromise of House and Senate versions that was negotiated behind closed doors between Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SD) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).
"With passage of this bill, we are taking another significant step to block the remaining avenues for the Iranians to fund their illicit behavior and evade sanctions," Johnson said in a statement. "The sanctions contained in this bill reach more deeply into Iran's energy sector than ever before, and build on the sweeping banking sanctions Congress enacted two years ago to reach to insurance, shipping, trade, finance and other sectors, targeting those who help to bolster Iranian government revenues which support their illicit nuclear activities."
In the Senate, nobody objected, not even Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who had several amendments he wanted to add to strengthen the legislation that the negotiators didn't choose to include in the final version of the legislation. But Kirk did promise to try again.
"I want to commend Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen for helping us negotiate a tough sanctions bill," Kirk said in a Tuesday statement. "A broad bipartisan coalition overcame objections from some in the administration to ratchet up energy and shipping sanctions to unprecedented levels, expand the Menendez-Kirk sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran, and increase penalties facing those who violate our sanctions. In the coming weeks, should the Iranian regime continue to defy the U.N. Security Council and refuse to halt its uranium enrichment activities, we will build a new bipartisan coalition to impose farther-reaching sanctions."
In the House, Reps. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) spoke out against the bill, arguing that it would subject the Iranian people to suffering and increase the likelihood of armed confrontation with Iran.
"It is so similar to what we went through in the early part of this last decade when we were beating the war drums to go to war against Iraq. And it was all a facade. There was no danger from Iraq. So this is what we are doing, beating the war drums once again," Paul said.
House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-CA) defended the bill, saying, "This is not the next step to war. This is the alternative to war. Iran having a nuclear weapon is unacceptable for many, many reasons."
The bill was heavily supported by the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, which issued a statement praising the passage of the bill and calling on the president to sign it.
"Each passing day affords the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism the ability to advance its illicit nuclear program. America must lead the effort to exert the maximum economic pressure to get Iran to change course," the statement said.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.