WASHINGTON – The GOP-led House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday approved legislation that would give Congress greater oversight of the landmark nuclear deal with Iran.
Passage of the bill comes as the United States is poised to begin lifting sanctions against Iran, possibly as early as this month, as Tehran fulfills its obligations under the July 14 agreement.
The Iran Terror Finance Transparency Act would subject an important part of the deal to expanded scrutiny on Capitol Hill.
But several Democrats who opposed the measure called it an 11th-hour attempt to scuttle the agreement after President Barack Obama last year won enough support to prevent Congress from derailing it or forcing him to veto it.
The bill would bar the removal of certain individuals and foreign financial institutions on a restricted list kept by the Treasury Department until the president certifies to Congress that they weren't involved in Iran's ballistic missiles program or terrorist activities.
Republicans opposed to the nuclear agreement have said sanctions relief will leave Iran flush with cash to fund terrorism.
The nuclear deal, co-engineered by the United States and Iran and signed by five other nations at the table, commits Tehran to cutting back over more than a decade on nuclear technologies that could be used for weapons-making. In exchange, Iran will have access to about $100 billion in previously frozen assets and fully return to the oil market.
The committee's bill targets more than 50 individuals and entities included in an attachment to the nuclear deal that also are on Treasury's "Specially Designated Nationals" list, which freezes any assets they may have in the U.S. and generally prohibits anyone in the U.S. from doing business with them. They were added to the SDN list for financing terrorism, committing human rights abuses, or weapons proliferation.
The White House would be prohibited from taking them off the SDN list unless it assures Congress they have not "facilitated a significant transaction" for Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, a foreign terrorist organization, or anyone sanctioned in connection with Iran's weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs, according to the legislation.
The committee's chairman, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., said that since the agreement was reached, Iran has demonstrated it can't be a trusted partner. Tehran has accelerated its ballistic missile program and "stepped up the slaughter that's going on in Syria," he said.
"So the question here is one of pushback," Royce said.
Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, opposed the bill, which he said Democrats had no role in drafting.
"This measure really has no chance of becoming law," said Engel, who opposed the nuclear deal.