Kenneth Stethem, a former Navy SEAL and the brother of an American victim of Iranian terrorism, called on President Obama to support a bill that would compel Iran to pay the $43.5 billion it owes to victims of terrorism before receiving sanctions relief.
Stethem joined Rep. Patrick Meehan (R., Pa.) and other lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday to publicize House legislation introduced this week that would bar the Obama administration from releasing $150 billion in unfrozen cash assets to Iran until the country pays the legal penalties awarded to U.S. victims of Iranian terrorism and their families by U.S. courts.
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The bill, named the Justice for Victims of Iranian Terrorism Act, is expected to go to the House floor Thursday for a vote and has upwards of 100 cosigners. Sens. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) and Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) have also introduced companion legislation in the Senate.
"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 said at a press conference Wednesday.
His brother, Chief Petty Officer Robert Stethem, was murdered by Hezbollah during the 1985 hijacking of Trans World Airlines Flight 847. Iran has refused to pay damages to his family and many others.
"Terrorism has become something more and more frequent because we haven’t developed an effective policy against it and we need to do that," Stethem stated. "I really believe this bill is the first step in doing that."
He added that the passage of the legislation would offer "closure" for families of terror victims.
"My brother can never be brought back, but the people who perpetrated these acts on my brother and hundreds of other victims can and should be held accountable," Stethem said.
Reps. Ed Royce (R., Calif.) and French Hill (R., Ark.) joined Meehan in backing the legislation. Hill and Meehan both slammed Obama for not including the damages owed by Iran in the negotiations of the nuclear deal, which was finalized in July.
"This is another example where Barack Obama, the president, has made a critical negotiating error," Hill stated. "He has let down the victims and let down the United States policy by not insisting on these adjudicated claims being part of these negotiations."
Despite what Meehan labeled "robust" support from House lawmakers, the White House said Wednesday that the president would veto any legislation that prevents the implementation of the nuclear agreement with Iran.
"I think the administration policy is wrong," Meehan said. "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."
In the wake of the nuclear deal, Iran has increased its funding of Hamas and Hezbollah, operating under the assumption that sanctions will be lifted.
"Let the American people be the judges about whether, in fact, it’s more important to give money to Iranian terrorists to carry out further acts of terror than it is to award the justly deserved compensation that has been given to families and victims who have already died or been harmed at the hands of Iranian terrorists," Meehan stated.