Congress to pass bipartisan, tougher Iran sanctions this week

House and Senate negotiators announced an agreement late Monday on a bill that would significantly tighten sanctions against Iran and companies that help Iran develop its energy resources or advance its nuclear program.

The new Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act was developed in bipartisan, bicameral discussions over the last several weeks, after both the House and Senate had passed separate bills calling for tougher sanctions. With the agreement in place, the House is set to vote on the bill, H.R. 1905, as early as Wednesday, and the Senate will also follow with quick consideration and passage this week.

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"This bipartisan, bicameral Iran sanctions legislation strengthens current U.S. law by leaps and bounds," House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said late Monday. "It updates and expands U.S. sanctions, and counters Iran's efforts to evade them. The bill sends a clear message to the Iranian regime that the U.S. is committed, through the use of sanctions, to preventing Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold."

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) said passing the bill would help to thwart Iran's efforts to obtain nuclear and other weapons.

"A nuclear-armed Iran would represent a grave threat to regional peace and international security," Johnson said. "These new sanctions will send a clear signal to Iran's military and political leaders, that unless they come clean on their nuclear program, end the suppression of their people, and stop supporting terrorist activities, they will face deepening international isolation and even greater economic and diplomatic pressure."

The United States already imposes a range of sanctions against companies that do business with Iran, but the new bill would broaden and deepen those sanctions more than ever before.

If enacted, the bill would sanction any company that deals with Iran's petroleum, petrochemical or natural gas sector; offers goods, services or infrastructure to Iran's energy, financial, services, consulting or other industries; insures or re-insures Iran's oil sector; or operates in joint ventures with or insures the National Iranian Oil Company.

Also sanctioned would be companies that insure the National Iranian Tanker Company, or that sell or lease tankers to Iran, or that transport crude oil from Iran.

Technically, the bill strengthens the Iran Sanctions Act, which has been the basis of U.S. sanctions against Iran since its passage in 1996. The original bill set out a range of sanctions for companies dealing with Iran, but the new bill, as prior bills have, would expand both the kinds of companies that could face sanctions and the number of sanctions they could face.

In addition, it seeks to cripple Iran's financial sector by requiring companies listed in the United States to disclose their activities in Iran, and by codifying current Executive Order sanctions against Iran's central bank.

Finally, the bill also includes new sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and against people responsible for human rights abuses in Iran since the elections in 2009.

House Republicans have placed the bill on the suspension calendar, which means it will need a two-thirds majority for passage, a hurdle the bill should easily clear given its broad support.

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