US House ‘approves’ Iran, Hezbollah sanctions

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Israel would use force to prevent N-Iran

US President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing on hurricane recovery efforts with Texas Gov Greg Abbott (second from left), on Oct 25 in Dallas. (AP)

WASHINGTON, Oct 26, (Agencies): The House has approved bipartisan legislation to slap new sanctions on Iran for its pursuit of long-range ballistic missiles without derailing the 2015 international nuclear accord that President Donald Trump has threatened to unravel. The bill passed Thursday 423-2.

The bill, sponsored by Reps Ed Royce and Eliot Engel, requires the Trump administration to identify for sanctions the companies and individuals inside and outside of Iran that provide support to Tehran’s ballistic missile programs. Royce, a California Republican, is the Foreign Affairs Committee chairman. Engel, who is from New York, is the panel’s top Democrat. Both opposed the nuclear agreement when it was forged two years ago, but neither lawmaker wants the deal ditched now.

Lawmakers are aiming to hold Iran accountable for what they say is reckless, destabilizing behavior. The House also approved bipartisan legislation Wednesday to block the flow of illicit money to Iran-backed Hezbollah militants and to sanction the group for using civilians as human shields as lawmakers took aim at what they called Tehran’s leading terrorist proxy. The measures were approved by voice vote.

The bill targeting Hezbollah’s finances, sponsored by Reps Ed Royce and Eliot Engel, directs the Trump administration to sanction the people and businesses engaged in fundraising and recruitment activities for the group.

Hezbollah is a member of Lebanon’s coalition government and the House measure touched off alarms in Beirut, where officials feared major damage might be done to the country’s banking sector if the bill is signed into law.

But Joseph Torbey, head of the Association of Banks in Lebanon, told reporters earlier this week that US officials have reassured a Lebanese banking delegation that visited Washington recthe sanctions won’t target Lebanese banks as long as they abide by American regulations. Washington considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization and has previously imposed sanctions on the group and its top commanders.

The expected new sanctions come at a time when the Trump administration is increasing pressure on Iran, Hezbollah’s main backer that has been supplying the group with weapons and money for more than three decades. Legislation sponsored by Reps Mike Gallagher, R-Wis, and Tom Suozzi, D-NY, calls on the president to push for the UN Security Council to impose international sanctions against Hezbollah for the group’s use of civilians as human shields. A separate House resolution that also passed Wednesday urges the European Union to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization.

The measure says the EU in 2013 gave only the terrorist designation to the group’s so-called “military wing.” Hezbollah “continues to conduct illicit narco-trafficking, money laundering, and weapons trafficking throughout Europe,” according to the resolution. “These critical measures will impose new sanctions to crack down on Hezbollah’s financing, and hold it accountable for its acts of death and destruction,” Royce said.

Meanwhile, Israel is willing to resort to military action to ensure Iran never acquires nuclear weapons, the intelligence minister said on Thursday in Japan where he is seeking backing for US President Donald Trump’s tougher line on Tehran.

Trump said on Oct 13 he would not certify Iran is complying with an agreement on curtailing its nuclear programme, signed by his predecessor, Barack Obama, opening a 60-day window for Congress to act to reimpose sanctions. “If international efforts led these days by US President Trump don’t help stop Iran attaining nuclear capabilities, Israel will act militarily by itself,” Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said in an interview in Tokyo. “There are changes that can be made (to the agreement) to ensure that they will never have the ability to have a nuclear weapon.” Israel has taken unilateral action in the past without the consent of its major ally, the United States, including air strikes on a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria in 2007 and in Iraq in 1981.

A strike against Iran, however, would be a risky venture with the potential to provoke a counter strike and roil financial markets. An Israeli threat of military strikes could, nonetheless, galvanize support in the United States for toughening up the nuclear agreement but it could also backfire by encouraging hardliners in Iran and widening a rift between Washington and European allies. So far, none of the other signatories to the deal — Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, Iran and the European Union — has cited serious concerns, leaving the United States isolated.

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