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Senate unveils tough new Iran sanctions legislation

A group of bipartisan senior senators is set to introduce the Senate’s version of new, wide-ranging sanctions legislation targeting the regimes of Iran, Syria, and North Korea. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) announced today at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington that the new bill would be unveiled later on Monday and would integrate a host ...

Frank Polich/Getty Images
Frank Polich/Getty Images

A group of bipartisan senior senators is set to introduce the Senate's version of new, wide-ranging sanctions legislation targeting the regimes of Iran, Syria, and North Korea.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) announced today at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington that the new bill would be unveiled later on Monday and would integrate a host of ideas in the Senate about how to increase pressure on Iran. He explained to the assembled group of pro-Israel lobbyists and supporters that the legislation was meant to both tighten enforcement of the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act (CISADA), and bring new pressure on the Iranian government's banking, energy, and military sectors.

"This bill seeks to tighten our current sanctions by requiring the Obama administration to respond to sanctionable activity," Kirk said.

A group of bipartisan senior senators is set to introduce the Senate’s version of new, wide-ranging sanctions legislation targeting the regimes of Iran, Syria, and North Korea.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) announced today at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington that the new bill would be unveiled later on Monday and would integrate a host of ideas in the Senate about how to increase pressure on Iran. He explained to the assembled group of pro-Israel lobbyists and supporters that the legislation was meant to both tighten enforcement of the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act (CISADA), and bring new pressure on the Iranian government’s banking, energy, and military sectors.

"This bill seeks to tighten our current sanctions by requiring the Obama administration to respond to sanctionable activity," Kirk said.

The main leaders on the Senate bill are Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ). Other main figures to watch on this bill include Kirk, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Bob Casey (D-PA). 

A primary focus of the bill, which will be called the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Sanctions Consolidation Act of 2011, will be to increasing pressure on companies based in other countries that are still doing business with Iran’s energy sector, especially China.

"I worry that the Obama administration has given Chinese banks and companies a get out of jail free card when it comes to sanctions law and they should not," Kirk explained.

The bill will also expand targeting of affiliates of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, go after the central bank of Iran and those who deal with it, and brings new sanctions to bear on any company that provides Iran with means to oppress its people — including guns, tear gas, motorcycles, and water cannons.

Many in Congress are increasingly unhappy with the Obama administration for failing to enforce penalties on companies from third-party countries that are still doing business with Iran. CISADA directs the administration to punish these companies. However, only a few have actually been punished — and they hail from places like Belarus where the administration has little concern for delicate bilateral relations.

"The administration has failed to comply with the bill’s reporting requirements and Congress has yet to receive reports from either 2009 or 2010," Kirk said. "We should have a serious sanctions policy that actually enforces the sanctions that are on the books."

Kirk and Gillibrand have a bill, called the Iran Human Rights and Democracy Promotion Act of 2011, that was rolled into the overall legislation. Their language would direct the administration to appoint a special representative on human rights and democracy in Iran and impose sanctions on companies that sell or service products that enable the Iranian regime to oppress its people, such as communications spying equipment.

Gillibrand also had a bill that would introduce criminal penalties against companies that fail to disclose their business ties with Iran to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is also part of the larger Senate package, as is Casey’s bill from last year which would make it harder for Iran to issue energy bonds — the idea being to make the export of crude oil more costly and difficult.

The House unveiled their version of new Iran sanctions legislation against Iran on May 16.

"U.S. policy towards Iran has offered a lot of bark, but not enough bite.  This new bipartisan legislation would bring to bear the full weight of the U.S. by seeking to close the loopholes in existing energy and financial sanctions laws, while increasing the type and number of sanctions to be imposed," House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said in a statement unveiling the House bill, which is called Iran Threat Reduction Act (ITRA).

Kirk took several shots at the Obama administration during his remarks, all of which were met by applause by the AIPAC audience. Kirk said he was disappointed with his recent "excruciating" 90-minute meeting with the State Department’s sanctions official, Bob Einhorn.

Kirk received a standing ovation from a large portion of the crowd when he linked the administration’s Iran policy to its stance on the Middle East peace process.

"The main point of me being here is to say that the Obama administration should be less concerned about zoning issues in Jerusalem and more concerned with the threat from Iran," Kirk said.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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