Republicans introduce bill to maintain ‘maximum pressure’ on Iran while regime plots US assassinations

New bill targets Iran’s funding, linking sanctions relief to its assassination attempts and terrorist activities.

By Andrew Bernard, The Algemeiner

U.S. Senate Republicans led by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) on Thursday introduced legislation to maintain “maximum pressure” through sanctions on Iran so long as the Iranian regime continues to pursue the assassination of US citizens.

According to Ernst, the bill — formally titled the “Preventing Underhanded and Nefarious Iranian Supported Homicides (PUNISH) Act” — was necessary in the face of Biden administration policies like the decision last month to release $6 billion in sanctioned funds to the regime in exchange for the release of five American prisoners. The prisoner swap also included the release of five Iranians held in the US.

“President [Joe] Biden’s strategy of appeasement continues to risk the lives of Americans at home and abroad,” Ernst said in a statement. “Iran cannot be allowed to continue to attempt to kill US citizens and Iranian dissidents with impunity. The world’s number-one state sponsor of terrorism is not to be trusted.”

Ernst added that she is holding Biden “accountable by preventing his administration from providing Tehran with another cent of sanctions relief. My PUNISH Act will put an end to this failed appeasement strategy and ensure Iran feels the maximum consequences of their actions from the United States.”

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The new legislation would remove the US president’s ability to waive or lift sanctions on Iran so long as Iran in the previous five years has been found to have attempted to kill or threaten any US citizen or any Iranian national residing in the US, or if the regime has carried out a politically motivated detention of any American citizen or permanent resident in Iran.

In recent years, Iran has been charged by the US government with plotting brazen assassination attempts on US soil.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton were both informed by the US Justice Department in 2022 that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a US-designated terrorist organization, had intended to assassinate them in a murder for hire plot as retaliation for the drone strike that killed IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani in 2020. Both men served in the former Trump administration.

In January, the Justice Department unsealed charges against three men arrested last year for the Iranian-orchestrated attempt to murder Iranian-American dissident and women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad. One of the the alleged plotters, Khalid Mehdiyev, a US resident, was arrested in front of Alinejad’s home in Brooklyn, New York carrying an AK-47-style rifle. The alleged murder attempt followed what US authorities said was a regime-organized effort to kidnap Alinejad in 2021.

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Iran was first designated by the US as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1984, and earlier this month an Iranian official admitted for the first time Iran’s role in a series of bombings in Lebanon in the 1980s that killed hundreds of Americans.

Thursday’s bill, which has 13 Republican co-sponsors, would prevent the president from lifting sanctions in response to plots organized by both Iran itself and Iranian-supported terrorist groups such as Lebanese Hezbollah and the Gaza-based Palestinian groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

A companion bill is set to be introduced in the House by Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL).