US House OKs bills to renew Iran sanctions

Swift passage underscored broad support on Capitol Hill for maintaining economic pressure on Tehran

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The House on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved bipartisan bills to crack down on supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and renew a decades-old Iran sanctions law.

Swift passage underscored broad support on Capitol Hill for punishing financial backers of the Syrian government and maintaining economic pressure on Tehran. Both bills had the firm backing of Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the panel’s top Democrat.

The Senate must now act on the legislation before the bills can be sent to the president.

Lawmakers have accused the Assad government of war crimes as the number of people killed during the violence in Syria continues to mount. The war, now in its sixth year, has killed as many as half a million people, contributed to Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II and given ISIS room to grow into a global terror threat.

“What we have now is a grim lesson in human suffering,” Royce said. “We can see the ethnic cleansing going on. Even the United Nations calls this ‘crimes of historic proportions.’ Enough is enough.”

The Syria legislation targets key backers of Assad such as Russia and Iran, according to Royce, by requiring the president to sanction countries or companies that do business with or provide financing to the Syrian government or the Central Bank of Syria.

Anyone that provides aircraft to Syria’s commercial airlines, does business with the transportation and telecom sectors controlled by the Syrian government, or supports the country’s energy industry also would be subject to sanctions, according to the legislation.

“If you’re acting as a lifeline to the Assad regime, you risk getting caught up in the net of our sanctions,” Engel said.

Sanctions could be suspended if internationally recognized negotiations to resolve the war in Syria are making progress and the violence against civilians has ended, according the legislation.

The White House and State Department had previously argued to Congress that new sanctions legislation could undermine efforts with Russia to forge a cease-fire between Assad and rebel groups. While the Russia talks have collapsed, the administration maintained concerns that the sanctions might hurt Iran, another Assad supporter, giving Tehran an excuse to renege on the US-brokered nuclear deal.

The House bill would authorize the State Department to assist in the collection and preservation of evidence for war crimes trials. Secretary of State John Kerry last month called for a war crimes investigation of Russia and Syria, a move that escalated already heated rhetoric against Moscow for its part in a deadly military offensive in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, and its longstanding support of Assad.

Rouhani: Iran will remain loyal to nuclear deal

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani says his country will remain committed to a landmark nuclear deal with world powers regardless of the US presidential election result.

Speaking Wednesday in the city of Karaj in a speech broadcast live on state TV, Rouhani said, “If a president is changed here and there, it has no impact on the will of Iran.”

Without mentioning any specific names, Rouhani said, “The world is not under the will of a single individual and party. The reality of the world will impose many things on extremists.”

He added, “nobody should imagine it is possible to play with Iran.”

In his campaign, US President-elect Donald Trump had criticized the deal that capped Iran's nuclear activities in return for lifting international economic sanctions.

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