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Lawmakers have recently called on the administration to take a firmer stand against Iran and Syria.

Heard on the Hill

Near East Report offers a look at recent legislation, resolutions and letters in Congress pertaining to the Middle East and the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Vast Senate Majority Calls for Sanctions on
Iran’s Central Bank

A bipartisan group of 92 senators—nearly the entire Senate—released a letter to President Barack Obama on August 9 urging him to sanction the Central Bank of Iran (CBI). “As you know, the Iranian regime continues to pursue avenues to circumvent both U.S. and multilateral sanctions,” says the letter spearheaded by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY). “In the banking sector, the Central Bank of Iran lies at the center of Iran’s circumvention strategy.”

The United States and European governments believe the CBI has facilitated trade for sanctioned Iranian banks and businesses, thus allowing the Islamic Republic to continue its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The CBI has also provided funds to terrorist groups, such as Hizballah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

The administration was granted the power to sanction the CBI by Congress last year under the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 (CISADA). Given existing sanctions on Iran’s other banks, blacklisting the CBI would deal a major blow to the regime by freezing it out of the global financial system.

Congress Urges Administration to Take Tough Stance against Syria

Both the Senate and the House sent letters to President Obama in early August calling on the administration to take a tougher stance against Syria and fully implement the sanctions specified in the Syria Accountability Act, which was signed into law in 2003. The law provides the administration with the authority to impose a sanction or set of sanctions on the Syrian regime, including on Syrian banks and businesses facilitating Damascus’ illicit activities.

The Senate letter, signed by a bipartisan group of 68 senators, was led by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who was an original cosponsor of the 2003 law, and Jim DeMint (R-SC). It urges the president and the international community to hold the Syrian regime accountable for its actions against the Syrian people. The co-authors wrote that “the Syrian people deserve a government that represents their aspirations and respects their basic human rights. It is clear that President al-Assad is not committed to pursuing the reforms that meet these goals.”

The chairwoman and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Howard Berman (D-CA), led the House letter, which was signed by 231 members from both sides of the aisle. “The threat posed by the Assad regime to the U.S., to our allies, and, most of all, to the Syrian people is stark and growing,” the two lawmakers said in a joint statement. “Assad and his circle have no legitimacy to rule. The U.S. and all responsible nations must impose the strongest possible sanctions on the murderous Syrian regime.” Original cosigners also include Reps. Connie Mack (R-FL), Elliot Engel (D-NY), Steve Chabot (R-OH) and Gary Ackerman (D-NY).

House Panel Approves Aid to Israel

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on State/Foreign Operations on July 27 approved $3.075 billion in security assistance to Israel and other key policy provisions as part of the fiscal year 2012 State/Foreign Operations Appropriations bill.

These provisions include a prohibition on aid to the Palestinians if there is a unity government including Hamas unless each minister publicly accepts the Quartet conditions: recognizing Israel, rejecting violence and endorsing existing Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Aid to the Palestinians is also prohibited unless the secretary of state certifies that the Palestinian Authority is not pursuing recognition of statehood at the United Nations, outside of a negotiated agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Aid to Egypt is conditioned on continued adherence to the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty and efforts to stop smuggling into Gaza. Military assistance to Lebanon requires certification that no ministry is effectively controlled by Hizballah, that there is transparency and that such aid will not affect Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge.

In addition, a detailed Iran sanctions provision seeks to enshrine in law for the first time that it is U.S. policy to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), chairwoman of the foreign operations subcommittee, stated that her subcommittee “understands just how critical it is to support Israel, especially in this period of rapid political change throughout the Middle East. Our unwavering support is bipartisan and is clearly reflected in this bill.” Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the foreign operations subcommittee, said she was “pleased” that the measure “fully funds our commitment to ensure our ally Israel maintains its qualitative military edge.” BACK TO TOP