October 11, 2015, Washington, DC – The House of Representatives passed the “Justice for Victims of Iranian Terrorism Act” (HR.3457) on Thursday, October 1st, with a vote of 251-173. A similar bill (S.2086) has also been introduced in the Senate. These bills would prohibit the United States from providing any sanctions relief to Iran before Iran has “paid each judgment” for every act of Iranian state-sponsored terrorism against Americans, which US Courts have ruled to total more than $43 billion in damages. The acts of terrorism in question were carried out by Hezbollah, a militant Islamist group operating out of Lebanon for whom Iran provided military training, munitions, and funding for past attacks that killed Americans abroad.
The provisions in these bills act to block the US from implementing key portions of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or Iran Nuclear Deal). Since the Iranian government is unlikely to pay the damages and publically acknowledge involvement in terrorist activity, the Justice for Victims of Iranian Terrorism Act would prevent the JCPOA’s implementation. As a result, the bills are being met with opposition from JCPOA supporters. The White House issued a statement against this Congressional motion, stating “ultimately the JCPOA, was to address one issue only – the international community’s concerns over Iran’s nuclear program and the need to verifiably prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” The Justice for Victims of Iranian Terrorism Acts would undermine US national security interests, as the JCPOA is the only way to ensure Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.
The same day, Senator Benjamin Cardin (D – MD), Democratic ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, proposed S.2119. Unlike The Justice for Victims of Iranian Terrorism Act, S.2119 allows the implementation of the JCPOA with strict government oversight and specific parameters. This includes additional military aid to Israel and other countries to balance the Iranian threat, an expedited process for imposing sanctions relating to Iranian-sponsored terrorism and creating positions in the U.S. government that oversee the JCPOA’s implementation. Senator Cardin, who formerly opposed the JCPOA, remarked that “the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is being implemented, it’s going forward, so we are concentrating on going forward, not the past.” This bill has been cosponsored by eight other Democratic Senators, and has the support of J Street, a pro-Israel advocacy group that supported the nuclear accord with Iran. Senator Cardin’s proposed legislation aligns with an earlier J Street proposal calling for strict Congressional oversight and increased US support for Israeli security.
While PAAIA supports victims’ of terrorism right to compensation, attaching it as a provision to the JCPOA’s implementation is counterproductive, undermining US oversight on Iran’s nuclear program. We join the White House and J Street on calling for strict oversight over the implementation of the JCPOA, which protects American national security interests and ensures Iran does not develop nuclear weapons capabilities.