US House renews sanctions on Iran, sets sanctions on Syria

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The US Congress (file photo)

The GOP-controlled US House of Representatives has passed bills to renew sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran and to impose sanctions on Syria.

The lawmakers on Tuesday voted 419 to one for a 10-year reauthorization of the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA), which was initially adopted in 1996 on the unfounded accusation that Tehran is pursuing non-civilian objectives in its nuclear energy program.

Iran has adamantly rejected the allegation, arguing that as a committed signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it has the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

The ISA will expire at the end of 2016 if it is not renewed. The bill must be passed by the Senate before being signed by the president into law.

Ed Royce, a hawkish Republican representative who chairs the foreign relations committee in the House, called the ISA "a critical tool," adding that, "Its expiration would compound the damage done by the president's dangerous nuclear deal and send a message that the United States will no longer oppose the destructive role of Iran in the Middle East."

This is while the Obama administration has advised the Republican-dominated Senate not to impose more sanctions on Iran after the historic nuclear agreement between Tehran and the six world powers.

Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the United States, Britain, Russia, China, France as well as Germany --started implementation of the deal, dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), on January 16.

Under the JCPOA, all sanctions imposed on Iran by the European Union, the UN Security Council and the US have to be lifted.

Iran in return has put some limitations on its nuclear activities. The nuclear agreement was signed on July 14, 2015 following two and a half years of intensive talks.

The House also passed by voice vote a measure imposing new sanctions on Damascus and the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad under the pretext of perpetrating war crimes and crimes against humanity.

This is while Washington and some of its regional allies have supported Takfiri groups fighting against Syria’s government. However, President-elect Donald Trump has spoken in favor of Assad, asserting that the US should focus on battling terrorism rather than bringing down the Syrian government.

Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura estimates that over 400,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Iran has been offering Syria advisory military help. Russia, another Syrian ally, has also been conducting an aerial bombardment campaign against militant positions in Syria on a request from Damascus.

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