House votes to block Iran sanctions relief
© Greg Nash

The House passed legislation on Friday to prevent President Obama from lifting any sanctions on Iran until the country pays court-ordered damages to American terror victims.

The vote of 251-173 comes after Capitol Hill Republicans were unable to override a veto threat earlier this month to reject the Iran nuclear deal.

U.S. courts have ordered Iran to compensate American terrorism victims who suffered in attacks linked to Tehran, such as the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut and the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. Iran still owes about $43.5 billion in outstanding damages, according to the Congressional Research Service.

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“Should Iran receive United States sanctions relief before it pays the victims of its terrorism all of what U.S. courts say those victims are owed?” said Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), the bill’s author. “I say no. Not one cent.”

But Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Iran doesn’t have access to enough funds to pay the damages because of U.S. sanctions currently in place.

“So where would Iran get the money to pay the American claims? The bill says, Iran pay the claims, but you can’t have any of the funds to pay them. So it’s a Catch-22,” Engel said.

Engel, who was among the Democrats that opposed the Iran deal, dismissed the measure as a show vote.

“Let’s be honest. This bill is not really about helping these victims. It’s about exploiting their plight and their tragedy to make a political splash,” Engel said. 

But Meehan argued the Iranian government should still be able to find the money to pay the court-ordered damages.  

“The facts show that Iran has the money and will have much more if the sanctions are lifted,” Meehan said.

The White House issued a veto threat against the measure, warning that it would jeopardize implementation of the international accord to curtail Iran’s nuclear weapons, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“The Administration continues to work to explore all possible avenues for compensation, but will not do so in a manner that would connect this issue to the JCPOA, thereby jeopardizing its implementation and Iran’s fulfillment of the critical nuclear steps required under the JCPOA,” the White House said in a Statement of Administration Policy.