A bill that would bar the Obama administration from releasing billions of dollars in sanctions relief to Iran before Tehran pays $43.5 billion it owes to victims of terrorism passed the House with a bipartisan majority.
The legislation, called the Justice for Victims of Iranian Terrorism Act, was introduced by Rep. Patrick Meehan (R., Pa.) earlier this week and passed in a 251-173 vote Thursday. Companion legislation has also been introduced by Sens. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) and Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) in the Senate.
On Wednesday, Meehan and other House lawmakers gathered on Capitol Hill to publicize the bill, which would compel Iran to pay the legal penalties awarded to U.S. victims of Iranian terrorism and their families by U.S. courts. They were joined by Kenneth Stethem, a former Navy SEAL and brother of an American victim of Iranian terrorism, who is a member of one of the many families to whom Iran has refused to pay damages.
"Let’s today vote as one House to say we will put Robert Stethem and the many victims of Iran’s terrorism before the criminals who conspired to kill them," Meehan told his colleagues in the House Thursday. "Until they pay these victims what they’re owed, let’s say no to Iran, not one cent."
Iran is poised to receive $150 billion in unfrozen cash assets as a result of the nuclear deal brokered in July. In the wake of the agreement, Tehran has been ramping up its funding to Hamas and Hezbollah, operating under the assumption that sanctions will be lifted.
"This bill ensures accountability for terrorist acts, and if the president doesn’t take the opportunity and Congress doesn’t take the opportunity to hold Iran accountable for their terrorist actions now, I have to ask, when will they?" Stethem, whose brother was murdered by Hezbollah in 1985, said at the press conference Wednesday.
The White House said the same day that President Obama would veto any legislation preventing the implementation of the nuclear deal.
"I think [Obama] has to answer to the victims why he believes it’s more important to return money to Iranians that will likely find their way to [fund] further terror before he makes available the opportunity for those proceeds to be given to the victims who have justifiably earned it in court proceedings," Meehan said Wednesday.
The Senate Banking Committee also passed an amended version of the bill Thursday, which received a vote in favor from Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.). Menendez was one of the Senate Democrats who vocally opposed the nuclear deal with Iran though Obama secured enough support in the chamber to avoid having to veto a resolution rejecting the agreement.