The House of Representatives was the scene of a flurry of sanctions-related activity this week, as the lower chamber passed new sanctions measures related to North Korea, Iran, and Hizballah. The bipartisan consensus on sanctions policy in the House continued, with three of the bills passing by unanimous voice vote and the other two bills being opposed by only two lawmakers apiece. The Senate has been keeping pace, with hearings on the situation in Myanmar (Burma) on October 25 and a draft bill in the works regarding Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal.

Iran

On October 26, following seven months of deliberation, the House passed the Iran Ballistic Missiles and International Sanctions Enforcement Act (H.R. 1698) by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 419-2. The legislation would require the President to impose a slew of new measures directed at outside support for Iranian missile development, including secondary sanctions against: (1) Iranian government agencies involved in ballistic missile development that are not already subject to sanctions; (2) foreign entities that supply material for, or otherwise facilitate or finance, such efforts; (3) foreign entities, including governments, that import, export, or re-export prohibited arms or related material to or from Iran; and (4) foreign entities that transfer goods or technologies contributing to Iran’s ability to acquire or develop ballistic missiles and other advanced conventional weapons. In addition, H.R. 1698 would instruct the President to supply Congress with a report regarding the foreign and domestic supply chain in Iran that supports Iran’s ballistic missile program, and to submit regular reports detailing credible evidence that the Executive Branch has received on potential violations of US sanctions or UN Security Council Resolution 2231.

H.R. 1698 addresses only conventional weapons, as opposed to targeting Tehran’s nuclear program directly, and is consistent with U.S. efforts from earlier this year to target suppliers to Iran’s ballistic missile program. (Steptoe discussed these efforts in greater detail here.)

Senate Republicans have begun to draft legislation in conjunction with the White House that would amend the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (INARA). On October 13, President Trump announced to Congress that he “cannot and will not” continue to make at least one of the periodic certifications regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or Iranian nuclear deal) called for by INARA. The Senate bill’s co-sponsors, Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker (R-TN) and Tom Cotton (D-AR), have suggested that the legislation would jettison sunset provisions in the JCPOA related to Iran’s nuclear program, eliminate the requirement for the president to re-certify the deal every 90 days, and require a snapback of secondary sanctions should Iran achieve a one-year or under “breakout” period for attaining nuclear weapons.  House and Senate Democratic leaders have thus far withheld judgment until they can review the text, which Chairman Corker expects to release in November.

In response to the President’s decertification announcement, a group of 25 former foreign ministers penned an open letter to House and Senate leadership “urg[ing them] to uphold the agreement, and not to take any unilateral action that seeks to expand, alter or renegotiate the terms of the JCPOA.” The October 18 letter pointed out that all other parties to the agreement have affirmed that Iran is meeting its commitments, and that “a unilateral withdrawal from the agreement would have far-reaching adverse consequences for the security of the United States and America’s standing in the world.” Signatories included former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, and former UK Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind.

North Korea

On October 24, the House passed the Impeding North Korea’s Access to Finance Act (H.R. 3898) by a 415-2 margin. The legislation would impose new secondary sanctions against a number of persons deemed to enable Pyongyang’s weapons development, including persons already sanctioned under existing Executive Orders, financial institutions that facilitate trade with North Korea, and North Korean laborers working abroad (which are a key source or revenue for North Korea). The vote comes on the heels of President Trump’s September 20 Executive Order that imposed a broad new set of secondary sanctions against those doing business with the Kim regime.

The bill would require the Treasury Secretary to issue regulations within 45 days of enactment that prohibit, or impose strict conditions on, U.S.-based correspondent and payable-through accounts held by foreign financial institutions that knowingly deal with a sanctioned person. U.S. financial institutions would also be barred from knowingly engaging in transactions that benefit a sanctioned person. H.R. 3898 also would direct the Treasury Secretary to oppose all World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) assistance to governments that knowingly fail to prevent the provision of financial services to certain sanctioned persons, and to support IMF measures that provide technical assistance to the anti-money laundering and anti-terror finance capacities of IMF member states.

In July, Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen had introduced a similar bill in the Senate, the Banking Restrictions Involving North Korea (BRINK) Act (S. 1591), which remains in committee.

Hizballah

On October 25, the House passed a package of measures targeting Hizballah via three unanimous voice votes. Following the bills’ passage, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ed Royce (R-CA) declared that that “Hezbollah is Iran’s leading terrorist proxy, and it is only growing more dangerous,” and “[t]hese critical measures will impose new sanctions to crack down on Hezbollah’s financing, and hold it accountable for its acts of death and destruction.” With the US ability to sanction Iran limited by the JCPOA, Hizballah sanctions become another way to target Iran’s allies in the region.

The centerpiece of the package, H.R. 3329, the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act (HIFPA), would bolster the U.S. sanctions regime against the Lebanon-based militant group in place since 2015. The legislation, co-sponsored by Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), would require the President to impose secondary sanctions on foreign persons who provide support to Hizballah’s fundraising and recruitment efforts, including those persons who aid certain Hizballah-aligned media outlets. In addition, under H.R. 3329, the President would be authorized to sanction agencies and instrumentalities of foreign states, as well as state sponsors of terrorism (such as Iran), that have provided significant financial, material, or military support to Hizballah. The bill takes aim at Hizballah affiliates, directing the President to impose sanctions against “affiliated networks of Hizballah” that aid the group’s transnational narcotics trafficking and racketeering operations. The Senate companion bill (S. 1595), sponsored by Marco Rubio (R-FL), passed the Senate by unanimous consent on October 5, and the differing bill texts will need to be reconciled between the chambers before being sent to the President.

The lower chamber approved nonbinding resolution (H Res 359), sponsored by Florida Democrat Ted Deutch, which “urges the EU to designate Hizballah in its entirety as a terrorist organization and increase pressure on the group.” In 2013, the EU took the unusual step of bifurcating Hizballah into “military” and “political” wings, and then designating only the “military” wing a terrorist entity. H Res 359 urges Brussels to take many of the same measures contained in H.R. 3329, including “freezing Hizballah’s assets in Europe, including those masquerading as charities” and “prohibiting fundraising activities in support of Hizballah.”  However, the EU has not shown an appetite to take this step.

Finally, the House passed the Sanctioning Hizballah’s Illicit Use of Civilians as Defenseless Shields Act (H.R. 3342), which directs the President to compile a list of persons responsible for or complicit in the use of civilians as human shields, as well as persons and foreign governments who materially support these individuals. Within 180 days of enactment, the president would need to determine whether a number of key Hizballah officials, including Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, should be included on this list, and impose blocking and travel sanctions against such persons.

Myanmar (Burma)

On October 22, the U.S. State Department announced that it is considering targeted sanctions against Myanmar’s military due to its alleged ongoing role in the violent campaign against the against the country’s Rohingya minority. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs W. Patrick Murphy testified in an Oct. 24 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that the Administration was “exploring accountability mechanisms under U.S. law, including global Magnitsky targeted sanctions.” Under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, the State Department can freeze assets and restrict the travel of designated persons who are responsible for killings or torture f individuals seeking to exercise “human rights and freedoms” overseas. The Rohingya crisis arose less than a year after the U.S. lifted all economic and financial sanctions on Myanmar following a transition to civilian rule, although certain military-related sanctions have remained in place.

Both Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) asked Murphy whether it was a mistake to lift sanctions in 2016, and Ranking Member Cardin called for a policy “reevaluates our position as far as having normal relations with Burma and the release of our sanctions.” Three weeks earlier on October 5, Deputy Assistant Secretary Murphy had testified to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, whose members also questioned him about whether the U.S. had lifted sanctions prematurely. Hearings in both the House and Senate with a government witness indicate an increased interest on the Hill in taking action to halt the Rohingya crisis.