House Prepares to Drop Olive Branch, Pick Up Switch With New Iran Sanctions

As early as next week the House of Representatives will consider slapping the country with fresh sanctions.

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Iran's president-elect, Hassan Rouhani
Iran's president-elect, Hassan Rouhani.

Last week 131 congressmen attached their names to an unprecedented call for diplomatic engagement with Iran. But as early as next week the House of Representatives will consider slapping the country with fresh sanctions.

The "Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013" is sponsored by Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and currently has 374 co-sponsors, ensuring that it will pass.

New sanctions included in the bill aim to coerce foreign countries into reducing imports of Iranian oil by 1 million barrels a day, according to a May statement from Royce and Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. If enacted as law, it would stiffen sanctions on foreign companies and individuals who do business with Iran and its leaders.

The bill also instructs the Secretary of State to consider listing Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization.

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Iran's president-elect, Hassan Rouhani
Iran's president-elect, Hassan Rouhani.

House leadership is expected to announce Friday whether or not the bill will come up for a vote next week, according to congressional staffers and policy advocates.

In what was heralded as an unprecedented move last week, 131 congressmen attached their names to a letter urging the Obama administration to use "all diplomatic tools" to negotiate with Iran on its nuclear enrichment program.

Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., drafted the letter with Rep. David Price, D-N.C., to express hope that Iran's president-elect Hassan Rouhani, a former nuclear negotiator widely seen as a moderate, would be enticed with carrots.

"[A]ll the representatives who signed this letter have done so with our eyes wide open," Dent told U.S. News in an emailed statement last week. "Now is the time to test whether Dr. Rohani's actions will match his rhetoric."

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Jamal Abdi of the National Iranian American Council told U.S. News the letter was significant because many Iranian leaders doubt the historically hawkish Congress would repeal sanctions, even if the Obama administration agreed to do so.

Despite authoring the pro-peace letter, which Rouhani tweeted about, Dent is also supporting the new sanctions bill.

"I have stated my desire to pursue further diplomatic initiatives with the new Iranian president," Dent told U.S. News in a statement, "[but] enhanced sanctions are a necessary measure that will further pressure the Iranians into serious negotiations on their nuclear program."

Iran's leaders may be moving toward more serious nuclear negotiations, The New York Times reported Friday. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki reportedly conveyed to U.S. officials their interest in direct talks.

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As the congressional debate on new sanctions looms, some former government officials are calling for lawmakers to hit the brakes.

In a Thursday op-ed in The Hill retired Gen. Joseph Hoar, who led U.S. Central Command, and retired Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, warned that "[r]ebuffing Rouhani's positive words, and preempting him before he has the chance to turn those words into deeds, will undercut the new president and his pledged path of 'moderation.' "

Rouhani assumes office August 3 and will replace fiery anti-American leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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