The focus of negotiations has largely been on these additional measures, which would have the collective impact of almost totally cutting Iran off from the world economy, something the West has already begun to do through sanctions on Iranian oil sales that went into force at the beginning of the month.
"What Congress is trying to do now is send a clear message that the U.S. government has declared economic war on the regime" in Tehran, said Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the pro-sanctions think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
With the collapse of another round of multilateral negotiations aimed at convincing Iran's mullahs to halt their nuclear program, many in and out of Congress believe this is the West's last chance to force a change in Tehran's calculations. As Dubowitz noted, Iran has managed to continue developing its nuclear program — albeit more slowly — despite intensified Western pressure and a sophisticated sabotage campaign.
Energy Sector Targeted
Among the provisions that stand a good chance of being added to the final bill are ones that would essentially blacklist Iran's entire energy sector, declaring it a "zone of primary proliferation concern," as proposed in a bill (
While existing sanctions target companies doing business with various elements of the energy sector, these provisions would prohibit all dealings with the state-run National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and its subsidiaries, as well as other companies involved in energy production, transport, insurance, trade and financing, closing loopholes in existing sanctions along the way.
Separately, Menendez is pushing for provisions that would target Iran's shipping industry and the National Iranian Tanker Co. (NITC), in particular. The White House designated the state-run oil company and shipping line as a sanctioned entity in an executive order earlier this month, barring U.S. companies from doing business with them. The proposed legislative measures would expand the NIOC and NITC sanctions to third-party companies based anywhere in the world, which would be punished for any business they do with Iran's main oil and shipping companies.
Others are looking to increase pressure on Iranian financial institutions, extending to other banks existing sanctions barring transactions with Iran's central bank. While hawks are pushing for a wholesale prohibition on Iran's banking sector, it's more likely that the final bill will instead list additional sanctioned institutions, including, for example, other state-owned banks.
Human rights legislation included in both original bills is likely to be strengthened in the final bill, with a particular focus on Iranian technology and telecommunications companies that have been used to suppress dissent within the country. Also under consideration is a provision on satellites to deter Tehran from jamming the signals of Persian-language media aired by other countries.
The original House and Senate bills focused on targeting entities related to the regime's petroleum industry and paramilitary force, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and its vast web of subsidiaries. Both bills proposed sanctioning foreign companies that do business with IRGC entities, thus cutting off its sources of income. The House bill went further in the type of activities it proposed sanctioning, as well as in its efforts to limit presidential waiver authority. Senate Democrats are likely to insist that the president maintain the broad ability to waive the manifold sanctions the new bill will impose.
The bill may also be used as a vehicle to add some new sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad's repressive regime in Syria, which continues to try and fight off an increasingly energized insurgency.
Measures on Syria likely would focus on human rights and mirror some of the steps that have been taken against Iran, including listing more human rights abusers subject to sanction and barring the provision of certain types of technology and weaponry that can be used against the Syrian people.