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Senate Moves Forward on Iran Sanctions Bill

Iran

Hours after a pair of deadly terrorist attacks in Iran’s capital city left at least 40 people dead on Wednesday, the U.S. Senate advanced a bill that would impose new sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Entitled the “Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017,” the law would enforce an arms embargo, target Iranian businessmen affiliated with the country’s ballistic missile program and impose terrorism-related sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The bill was introduced in late March and is sponsored by Republican Sen. Bob Corker.

The Senate opened debate on the sanctions resolution after a 92-7 vote on Wednesday; the bill is open to amendments before a final Senate vote.

Sen. Bernie Sanders was one among few senators to criticize the bill, but only for the timing of the vote—too soon after the attacks in Tehran—not the content of the resolution.

“Let us tell the people of Iran that while we have serious disagreements with them on a number of issues, that today when they are mourning, when they are dealing with the shock of a terrorist attack, today is not the day to go forward with this piece of legislation,” Sanders said.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry also criticized the bill, arguing it could reverse progress made in the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran, a deal strongly criticized by several officials in the Trump administration.

“If we become super provocative in ways that show the Iranian people there has been no advantage to this, that there is no gain, and our bellicosity is pushing them into a corner, that’s dangerous and that could bring a very different result,” Kerry said.

In addition to the sanctions on Iran, lawmakers have also proposed adding language to the act that would impose additional sanctions on Russia over its alleged interference in the 2016 election, as well as its actions in Syria and Ukraine.

“I think we have an opportunity on the Iran sanctions bill to amend it to include strong Russia sanctions; I’m determined that we get that done,” said Democratic Sen. Chris Coons. “That’s foremost in my mind.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif signaled disapproval of the move, as well as to an inflammatory statement released by the administration in the wake of the Tehran attacks.

“Repugnant WH statement & Senate sanctions as Iranians counter terror backed by US clients. Iranian people reject such US claims of friendship,” Zarif tweeted Thursday.

In a statement after the attacks in Tehran, the administration said Iran fell “victim to the evil they promote,” in reference to the common refrain that Iran is the world’s largest state-sponsor of terrorism. While that dubious honor in reality falls to American ally Saudi Arabia, the administration apparently could not resist adding insult to injury while the dead bodies in Tehran were still warm.

A new bipartisan effort to resist a recent spate of arms deals with Saudi Arabia is spearheaded by Sens. Rand Paul (R – KY) and Chris Murphy (D – CT), who insist there should at least be debate on the matter. Though arms lobbyists are expected to successfully push them through, the bipartisan effort may at least limit some aspects of the deals, especially where they relate to the Saudi-led war on Yemen.

The Senate is also pushing another symbolic resolution to express condolences to the victims of Wednesday’s attack, but the sentiment of the bill is overshadowed by the new round of proposed sanctions.

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