U.S. Senate votes unanimously to renew Iran sanctions

The Senate passed a bill extending the ability to sanction Iran by another decade, while Tehran says the bill violates the nuclear deal and vows counter action.  

The U.S. Senate moved decisively Thursday to renew a decades-old sanctions law that lawmakers said gives the United States the clout to punish Iran should it fail to live up to the terms of the controversial nuclear deal.

Senators passed the bill unanimously, 99-0, two weeks after the House also approved the legislation by an overwhelming margin of 419-1.

The bill to grant a 10-year extension of the Iran Sanctions Act will be sent to President Barack Obama, who planned to sign it.

The White House deemed the bill unnecessary but said it didn’t violate the international accord meant to slow Iran’s ability to make nuclear arms.

Lawmakers view the sanctions law, which is set to expire at the end of the year, as an important tool for holding Iran accountable for any violations of the nuclear agreement and also as a bulwark against Tehran’s aggression in the Middle East. The law, first passed by Congress in 1996 and renewed several times since then, allows the US to slap companies with economic sanctions for doing business with Iran.

In exchange for Tehran rolling back its nuclear program, the US and other world powers agreed to suspend wide-ranging oil, trade and financial sanctions that had choked the Iranian economy. The White House has been concerned that renewing the sanctions could give Iran an excuse to scuttle the deal by saying the US had reneged on its commitments to sanctions relief.

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Last month, after the House passed the renewal, Iran’s top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Iran would be forced to react if the sanctions were renewed. White House officials said Thursday that Obama remained fully committed to implementing the deal and that the renewal would have no effect at all on the sanctions relief Iran is receiving.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Thursday that preserving the sanctions law is critical to blunt Iran’s “persistent efforts to expand its sphere of influence” throughout the Middle East. He also criticized the administration for allowing itself to be “held hostage” by Iran’s threats to withdraw from the nuclear agreement.

Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker (R-TN) said renewing the law will ensure President-elect Donald Trump can reinstate sanctions the Obama administration lifted to implement the Iran nuclear deal.

Congress approved the Iran Sanctions Act 20 years ago to block major foreign investment in Iran’s energy sector. The goal was to deny Tehran the ability to financially support terrorism and build nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has argued that keeping the law on the books is necessary if the US wants to retain “a credible deterrent” of putting sanctions back into place should Iran cheat on its obligations under the nuclear agreement.

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Iran Condemns Senate

Iran’s foreign minister condemned the US Senate’s extension of the legislation, state TV reported Saturday.

Iran’s state television quoted Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying that the extension “shows the lack of credibility of the US government.”

On Friday, Bahram Ghasemi, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, issued a statement condemning the extension of sanctions against Iran and said the act is a clear violation of the  nuclear deal.

Ghasemi said, “The US president has agreed within the framework of the nuclear deal that he would use his authority to prevent the legislation and enforcement of any measures in violation of the deal, such as the recent act by the Congress.”

Ali Akbar Salehi, chief of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said on Friday that Iran will carefully consider how to respond. “We will definitely make no emotional decisions but will make a decision based on prudence, vigilance and wisdom,” he said.

By: AP