Editorial: Congress Sends Strong Message to Iran, Approves Toughest Sanctions Ever

Congress on August 1 passed a new package of sanctions on Iran, aimed at compelling Tehran to abandon its nuclear program. The Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act garnered overwhelming bipartisan support, receiving unanimous approval in the Senate and passing the House by a vote of 421-6.

The new legislation must be fully implemented as soon as possible. The swift implementation of sanctions will send a strong message to Iran’s leaders, signaling America’s unwavering resolve and unyielding commitment to deter their pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

Building extensively on existing U.S sanctions, the legislation includes the toughest U.S. penalties ever to be imposed against the Iranian regime. In fact, when coupled with existing sanctions, these measures represent the strongest set of sanctions to isolate any country in the world during peacetime.

In particular, the legislation prohibits the repatriation to Iran of any revenue from the sale of its oil, which will prevent the Islamic Republic from receiving 80 percent of its hard currency earnings and 50 percent of the funding for its national budget. It sanctions any company that transports Iranian crude oil or insures vessels carrying Iranian crude, as well as any entity helping Iran evade sanctions imposed by the United States.

In addition, the law expands financial sanctions to include anyone trading in gold or other precious metals with Iran, moneychangers, and anyone buying or facilitating the issuance of Iranian sovereign debt, including bonds. In doing so, it closes loopholes in existing sanctions. The law also expands the sanctions against those aiding Syrian President Bashar Assad to commit horrific human rights abuses against his own people.

In effect, the new legislation subjects virtually all of Iran’s energy, financial and transportation sectors to U.S. sanctions. Foreign and domestic companies that choose to do business with Iran in these sectors risk losing access to American markets.

Passage of this legislation comes in the wake of yet another stalemate in negotiations between Iran and word powers over its nuclear program. Three rounds of talks held this year foundered, like previous ones, because the Iranian regime continues to reject the demand of the international community that it curtail uranium enrichment. Instead, the regime is forging ahead with its nuclear program, expanding enrichment activities and attempting to hide evidence of nuclear weaponization.

And just the day after the legislation was approved, the Iranian leadership underscored once again, through hate-filled and bellicose rhetoric, why its nuclear ambitions are particularly dangerous and why such legislation is needed. Addressing a group of ambassadors from Islamic countries, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeated his call for Israel’s destruction, adding that “liberating Palestine” would solve all the world’s problems.

“Any freedom lover and justice-seeker in the world must do its best for the annihilation of the Zionist regime in order to pave the path for the establishment of justice and freedom in the world,” the Iranian president said. Repeating traditional anti-Semitic slurs, he accused “Zionists” of controlling the world’s media and financial systems.

Ahmadinejad, of course, is just the most senior representative of a belligerent regime, responsible for the most virulent form of state-sponsored anti-Semitism since Nazi Germany. Speaking at an international antidrug conference in Tehran in June, his deputy, Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi, blamed the spread of drugs on the teachings of the Talmud, while Iranian Chief of Staff Major General Hassan Firouzabadi said in May that “the Iranian nation is standing for its cause and that is the full annihilation of Israel.”

A regime that makes its genocidal intentions so clear and explicit cannot be allowed the means to carry out these intentions. Iran must not have the capability to produce a nuclear weapon.

The new package of sanctions represents the latest effort to prevent such a nightmare scenario – one that would endanger not only the lives of millions of people in the Mideast, but also the national security and economic security of the United States.

However, time is running short. As Iran inches ever closer to a breakout capacity – the moment when it could quickly produce weapons-grade uranium and dash to build a bomb – we cannot afford to wait years to see if the sanctions are effective and influence Iranian decision making.