US bill seeks to permanently allow presidents to sanction Iran

Republican and Democratic members of Congress introduce Solidify Iran Sanctions bill

An Iranian woman walks past a mural in the capital Tehran. AFP
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A group of US lawmakers on Monday introduced a bill to permanently allow American presidents to apply economic sanctions on Iran, cementing legislation that was set to expire in three years.

Twenty-four Republican and Democratic members of Congress introduced the bill — the Solidify Iran Sanctions Act — to the US House and the Senate, in a move intended to indefinitely extend the 1996 Iran Sanctions Act, which was set to expire in 2026.

In a statement, the members of Congress said the move was intended to apply pressure on the Iranian regime and prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

“The Iran Sanctions Act is one of the most important tools in US law to compel Iran to abandon it’s dangerous and destabilising behaviour,” Republican Congressman Mike McCaul said in a statement.

“This bill takes the long overdue step of striking the arbitrary sunset from the law, so that sanctions will only be lifted if Iran stops its threatening behaviour. Iran can’t run out the clock on US law.”

The development comes amid rising regional tension and years of US sanctions over Iran’s nuclear programme.

Tehran maintains that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes, but western nations say Iran wants to develop a nuclear bomb.

In March, a Pentagon official said that since 2018, Tehran has been making “remarkable” progress in its nuclear production and could develop a bomb within 12 days.

The development also comes amid little progress in reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which the US unilaterally withdrew from five years ago under then-president Donald Trump.

President Joe Biden, who took office in 2021, had said that he was committed to reviving talks with Iran that would allow for sanctions relief in exchange for Tehran freezing its nuclear activities.

But efforts and indirect talks mediated by the European Union have so far failed to reach a deal.

Last week, Iran seized a US-bound oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman in the latest such incident that has roiled the region.

Also last week, the Biden administration announced new sanctions against the intelligence wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps over its role in the detention of Americans Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz, who have been held for years on what the US State Department calls “bogus” espionage charges.

Michelle Steel, a Republican congresswoman from California who was one of three sponsors of the bill, said Iran has “made clear it has no interest in participating in the international community or working towards peace”.

“The rogue state continues to make threats against democracy and actively sponsors terrorism around the world,” Ms Steel said in a statement.

“Through this bipartisan, bicameral legislation, we can prevent Iran from possessing nuclear weapons and further jeopardising global peace.”

US news media outlets reported that lawmakers are currently working on introducing additional legislation aimed at putting more pressure on Iran.

Updated: June 20, 2023, 6:20 PM