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September 30, 2015 9:55 pm

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Calls for New Sanctions Against Iran Over Human Rights Abuses

avatar by Eliezer Sherman

U.S. Representative Ed Royce, (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Photo: U.S. Congress.

U.S. Representative Ed Royce, (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Photo: U.S. Congress.

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Wednesday calling on the president directly to slap sanctions against senior Iranian officials over “serious human rights abuses against the people of Iran.”

Royce’s call came as Obama met with would leaders on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly’s opening session this week in New York to discuss the implementation of the nuclear deal that would actually lift sanctions against Iran, mostly against its oil and financial sectors.

The letter by Royce, a vocal opponent of the president’s nuclear agreement, noted that since September 2013, shortly before the announcement of an interim agreement with Tehran over its nuclear program was announced, only one Iranian official and “two other entities” have been sanctioned for human rights abuses. This, despite the Obama administration’s insistence that negotiations with Iran and the subsequent deal addressed the nuclear program alone, and did not necessarily signal a thaw in relations with the U.S., which still designates Iran one of three state sponsors of terrorism worldwide, a designation shared with just North Korea and Syria.

The State Department in its 2014 human rights report condemned Iran for myriad human rights abuses, including disappearances, executions without trial, and persecution of the LGBT population, minority groups and political dissidents.

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Royce wrote that such human rights abuses have continued unabated even since the election of ostensible moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who was elected in part on a platform of rapprochement with the West.

“Designating and sanctioning Iranian officials — including senior members of the Rouhani administration — for their role in human rights abuses will remind the Iranian people that the American people are on their side, not the side of the brutal Iranian regime,” he wrote.

In addition, “Iran also continues to hold four Americans: former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, Pastor Saeed Abedini,Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian and former FBI agent Robert Levinson. Two of these Americans are also Iranian citizens. Amir Hekmati was visiting his grandmother when he was arrested while Pastor Abedini was sharing his Christian faith. Like thousands of Iranians over the past three and a half decades, they were taken from family and friends and convicted of vague charges without due process, often in closed trails.”

Royce’s letter was sent as Republicans in the Senate, Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), introduced legislation on Wednesday aimed at blocking Obama from lifting sanctions against Iran until the country paid $43.5 billion in court-ordered damages to terror victims.

In a statement, Kirk said lifting sanctions before Iran paid compensation would “embolden Iran and other state sponsors of terror to continue targeting Americans.”

According to The Hill, the Obama administration has already threatened to veto the bill for undermining its legislatively safeguarded nuclear deal with Iran.

These Republican initiatives are the latest in a long line of attempts to chip away at the integrity of Obama’s Iran deal, which polled poorly with the American public and was majority opposed in both houses of Congress. Among the efforts have been legislation aimed at passing a resolution rejecting the deal outright, which was filibustered, as well as attempts to force the Obama administration to release secret documents between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran, which remain undisclosed to the public.

The Obama administration has attempted to differentiate between U.S. police vis-a-vis Iran’s nuclear program and other issues, insisting sanctions against Iran’s military and other entities will remain in place for the time being, though some military sanctions — such as Iran’s conventional weapons and ballistic missile program —  could be released from sanctions within five and eight years, respectively, if the country adheres to the nuclear agreement.

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