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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Republicans in Congress are poised to introduce a sanctions bill against Iran on Wednesday that will target its leaders, regional proxies and end economic waivers currently allowed in places such as Iraq.
The bill would be the largest punitive measures introduced against Iran by Congress.
The office of Congressman Joe Wilson, one of the proposal’s sponsors, confirmed to The National that it will include 140 initiatives against Iran and tighten pressure on Russia and China to step up their action against the regime.
The bill is timed as the Trump administration seeks pressure to renew the UN arms embargo on Iran that will expire in October. According to the Washington Free Beacon, it would target an estimated $70 million (Dh257m) of annual security aid to Lebanon and sanctions waivers granted to Iraq that allow it to sell electricity to Iran.
The Republican Study Committee is behind the proposal – first reported by the Washington Free Beacon – which has 147 members in the House on board, including RSC chair Mike Johnson.
So far, no Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, have supported the bill, which
in its current form could also face hurdles from the administration of President Donald Trump.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has supported renewing waivers for Iraq, and continuing US military aid to Lebanon.
The bill would block any administration efforts to lift sanctions on Iran without Congress approval, and would impose more sanctions on its proxies in Iraq.
But the bill could offer the White House tools to pressure Russia and China into renewing the current UN arms embargo on Iran, expiring in October.
If the embargo is not renewed, Congress would “play a central role in crafting new embargoes on the sale of weapons to Iran", the Washington Free Beacon reported.
This would include "new sanctions on the arms industries of countries like Russia and China that return to selling weapons to Iran, the banks facilitating any sale of weapons to Iran, and the companies shipping weapons”, the paper said.
The bill would also halt US aid to Lebanon and sanction Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s “multibillion-dollar financial empire, as well as the country's petrochemical, financial and automotive sectors”, the report said.
Firas Maksad, a Middle East analyst in Washington and a professor at George Washington University, said the proposal is huge in its penalties but will face several hurdles.
“The proposed legislation is designed to be the mother of all sanctions bills, but its size and the multiplicity of thorny foreign policy issues it impacts means it will be hindered by political bickering,” Mr Maksad said.
“Republican foreign policy hawks in Congress believe it will be difficult for the administration to resist pressure for a tougher approach to Iran, Russia and China” in an election year.
But technically the bill could go through several amendments to win support from both parties in Congress.
“The legislation will need to navigate both chambers of congress and go through a reconciliation process," Mr Maksad said.
"If elements of it are ultimately signed into law, it will be after protracted negotiations and the inclusion of a presidential waiver, thereby allowing the president to suspend its provision on national security grounds when necessary."
Ryan Bohl, an analyst at the US intelligence company Stratfor, said he did not expect it to pass.
“It seems unlikely to pass, especially with the November election coming up and Democrats not wanting to look like they're creating overseas tension,” Mr Bohl said.
But the legislation could “pressure, even inspire, the Trump administration to tighten sanctions further before the election”, he said.
Mr Bohl said the emphasis on Lebanon and Iraq was significant in the proposal.
“Lebanon and Iraq are becoming a hawk priority," he said.
"The pro-sanctions community believes that they must crush Iran's links to those countries and are willing to risk US ties in Beirut and Baghdad to do so.”
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