x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 25 November 2017

US Congress to vote on four bills ramping up pressure on Tehran and Hizbollah

President Trump recently announced a new tougher stance on Iran

US President Donald Trump recently rolled out a new strategy to counter the "fanatical regime" of Iran. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
US President Donald Trump recently rolled out a new strategy to counter the "fanatical regime" of Iran. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The US House of Representatives will vote on four bills on Wednesday aimed at ramping up the pressure on Tehran and its Lebanese ally, Hizbollah.

It comes a few weeks after US president Donald Trump rolled out a new strategy to counter the "fanatical regime" of Iran and announced his decision to decertify the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.

If passed, the four bills would target Iran’s ballistic missile programme, pressure the Europeans to designate Hizbollah as a terrorist organisation, and impose sanctions on the Shiite militant group.

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Voting is expected to begin at 12pm local time (8pm UAE) on Wednesday and go on until 3pm local time. The first bill, known as the “Iran Ballistic Missiles and International Sanctions Enforcement Act", is sponsored by the chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, Ed Royce, and enjoys bipartisan support. It would clamp down on any outside support for Iran's ballistic missile programme.

Amir Toumaj, an expert on Iran at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank, told The National that the resolution “is meant to tighten sanctions on [the] IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) missile programme and disruption of procurement”.

Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard was designated a “supporter of terrorism” by the US treasury department on October 13, shortly after Mr Trump’s announcement that he was decertifying the nuclear deal.

The resolution, Mr Toumaj added, “specifically seeks to prevent Iran from undertaking any activity related to nuclear-capable ballistic missiles”, a benchmark that the Trump administration would like to enforce in the nuclear deal.

Next on the agenda, the House will vote on three bills related to Hizbollah sanctions: the first is known as the "Sanctioning Hizbollah’s Illicit Use of Civilians as Defenceless Shields Act"; the second — and most critical — is known as the “Hizbollah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act” (Hifpa), which would target the group’s financial and social network; and the third is a non-binding resolution “urging the European Union to designate Hizbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organisation and increase pressure on it and its members”.

Mr Toumaj said all four pieces of legislation “are expected to have bipartisan support” and are not in violation of the nuclear deal signed with world powers, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Instead, he said, “they express US intent to curb non-nuclear activities, specifically ballistic missiles and Hizbollah — two arenas the Trump administration perceives as serious threats from Tehran”.

The voting coincides with a visit to Washington by Lebanese army chief General Joseph Aoun, who is set to meet with US military commanders, as well as National Security Adviser HR McMaster.

The Lebanese government has expressed concerned about a backlash from the Hizbollah sanctions on the country’s fragile economy. If passed, Hifpa would require the US president to release an annual estimate of the net worth of Hizbollah leaders and backers, including its secretary general Hassan Nasrallah and other influential backers in Lebanon.