The House voted Thursday to impose new sanctions on entities that help supply Iran's ballistic missile program.
The bill sailed through the House with the help of 323 cosponsors. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., wrote the bill as a way to pressure an aspect of the regime's military program that has long troubled western officials but was not addressed directly by the nuclear deal negotiated by former President Barack Obama's team.
"America will not be weak any longer," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Wednesday when the bill was being debated. He said the bill would undermine Iran's ballistic missile program, as well as "the terrorist warriors of Hezbollah whose pockets are filled with Iranian money just as their hands are covered with American blood. This is an important part of our nation's new Iran strategy."
Iran's ballistic missile program is a crucial factor in President Trump's recent formal denunciation of the nuclear deal. His team, along with allies in Congress, hope that the threat of renewed sanctions will induce Iran to agree to new restrictions on the missile program. Iranian leaders have stressed that they will never agree to such terms.
"West has no right to ask why Iran is present in region, or why Iran has missiles," Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week. "Not their business! Why do you have missiles?"
In state-run media, he added the question, "Why do you have atomic bombs?"
Royce structured the legislation to put pressure on the program, regardless of Iran's attitude. "It requires a comprehensive investigation to identify and designate the companies and the banks and the individuals, both inside and outside of Iran, which supply the regime's missiles and conventional weapons programs," he said. "And it sanctions those entities."
The legislation was included in a tranche of bills that passed Wednesday, and targeted Hezbollah, a terrorist organization based in Lebanon that is funded and armed by Iran. The anti-Hezbollah bills were designed to stiffen world opposition to the terrorist group, in part by cutting off international funding.
"We know that Iran will again get caught up in this dragnet—and this bill doesn't run afoul of our obligations under the nuclear deal or any other deal. After all, Iran's support for Hezbollah is outside the scope of the [the nuclear deal]," New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said during Wednesday's floor debate.
"But, it's not just Iran," Engel added. "In recent years, we've seen Moscow step up its support of Hezbollah, particularly on the battlefields of Syria, where Russia has reportedly supplied Hezbollah with weapons. It's really outrageous."
The various proposals are consistent with Trump's goal of counteracting the flu range of Iranian aggression, after former Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated a deal that focused on the nuclear threat. Royce emphasized that his sanctions bill didn't require Democrats and Republicans to come to agreement about the Obama administration's signature foreign policy agreement.
"I appreciate members' concerns regarding the future of the Iran deal on both sides; this isn't an easy issue," Royce said during the hearing. "This bill is not and should not be a referendum on the nuclear deal."