Congress voted overwhelmingly Thursday to impose sweeping economic sanctions on Iran to increase pressure on the regime in Tehran as it continues its nuclear program.
The bipartisan measure, which passed 99-0 in the Senate and 408-8 in the House, comes on the heels of the U.N. Security Council’s fourth round of sanctions against Iran and a supplementary package of restrictions announced last week by the European Union.
“A nuclear-armed Iran would pose an intolerable threat to our ally Israel, risk igniting an arms race in what is already one of the world’s most dangerous regions, and undermine our global effort to halt the spread of nuclear weapons,” said Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISAD) will make it more difficult for companies that invest in Iran - particularly in its lucrative oil and natural-gas sector - to do business in the United States, such as by barring such companies from securing government contracts.
Members of Congress stressed urgency in preventing a nuclear Iran and condemning Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other members of the Tehran regime for their ongoing crackdown on dissidents and support for terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas.
Getting strong Iran sanctions to the president’s desk has been the top legislative priority of pro-Israel organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which said that CISAD “provides the best hope that political and economic measures can peacefully persuade Iran to end its illicit nuclear program before it is too late.”
J Street, the self-described pro-Israel pro-peace lobby, also welcomed passage while reiterating its support for continued efforts at diplomatic engagement.
Other lobbying groups, like the National Iranian American Council, have opposed the bill on the grounds that it would only impose further suffering on the Iranian people.
But some Iran experts have expressed guarded optimism that such hardship could ratchet up popular pressure on the regime.
“What’s happened already is that we see ordinary Iranians - and especially the Iranian business community - blaming the hard-liners for being the source of their difficulties, and I think that will accelerate,” said Patrick Clawson, director of the Iran Security Initiative at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The sense will be that, ‘If it weren’t for those jack***es in power, we’d be a rich country.’ “
Yet even the bill’s strongest supporters acknowledge that CISAD’s effectiveness rests in the Obama administration.
“Contrary to what my boss and a lot of folks on our side of the aisle wanted, there are numerous waivers throughout the bill,” noted a high-ranking Republican congressional aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the thinking in his caucus.
“Basically, wherever you see a sanction, there’s also a waiver, so based on the administration’s approach to the Iranian threat at every step along the way - they tried to delay consideration of this bill and weaken this bill - I’m not sure we have a lot of confidence that these sanctions will be vigorously enforced.”