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U.S. House Votes To Renew Iran Sanctions, Sanction Syria's Backers

Air strikes and battles in Syrian cities in the last five years have killed nearly a half million people, prompting a move by U.S. legislators to impose sanctions on regime backers (file photo).

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved bipartisan legislation to renew a decades-old Iran sanctions law and impose new sanctions on supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The legislation passed quickly on a 419-1 vote, showing broad support on Capitol Hill for maintaining economic pressure on Tehran and punishing backers of the Syrian government.

The bills were sponsored by the Republican chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Ed Royce, and the committee's top Democrat, Representative Eliot Engel.

The Senate must now act on the legislation before the bills can be sent to the president.

The Iran Sanctions Extensions Act authorizes the United States to punish Tehran should the country fail to live up to the terms of the landmark nuclear deal reached last year.

In exchange for Iran rolling back its nuclear program, the United States and other world powers agreed to suspend wide-ranging oil, trade, and financial sanctions that had choked the Iranian economy.

"Now is not the time to ease up on the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism," said Republican Representative Leonard Lance. "Sanctions work."

The act, first passed by Congress in 1996 and renewed several times since then, expires at the end of the year. The bill approved by the House extends the law by 10 years, to 2026.

There is widespread support in the Senate for passing the extension and the White House signaled earlier this year that President Barack Obama would sign it.

'Grim Lesson' In Syria

The Syrian sanctions legislation targets key backers of Assad such as Russia and Iran by requiring the president to penalize countries or companies that do business with or provide financing to the Syrian government, Royce said.

Lawmakers have accused the Assad government of war crimes in a five-year bloody conflict that has killed as many as half a million people, spawned Europe's worst refugee crisis in modern times, and given room for the Islamic State group to perpetrate its brand of global extremism.

"What we have now is a grim lesson in human suffering," Royce said. "We can see the ethnic cleansing going on. Even the United Nations calls this 'crimes of historic proportions.' Enough's enough."

Anyone that provides aircraft to Syria's commercial airlines, does business with the transportation and telecom sectors controlled by the Syrian government, or supports the country's energy industry would also be subject to sanctions under the legislation.

"We want to go after the things driving the war machine: money, airplanes, spare parts, oil," Engel said. "Something needs to jolt this crisis out of its bloody status quo. This bill would give the administration more tools to do so."

"If you're acting as a lifeline to the Assad regime, you risk getting caught up in the net of our sanctions," he said.

Sanctions could be suspended under the legislation if internationally recognized negotiations to resolve the war in Syria are making progress and the violence against civilians has ended.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and TASS
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