WASHINGTON (CN) — The House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday that would bar all future cash payments to Iran, the latest in a string of more than a dozen Iran-related bills introduced since last year.
Dubbed the Prohibiting Future Ransom Payments to Iran Act, the Republican-sponsored bill emerged in direct response to $1.7 billion in cash payments the Obama Administration made to Iran earlier this year that coincided with the country's release of four American hostages, and implementation of the Iran nuclear deal.
The Obama administration made the cash payments to settle a decades-old debt for a 1970s arms deal to the Shah of Iran - a former U.S. ally who was dethroned during the 1979 Islamic revolution. Post-revolution, the United States opted not to deliver the weapons to the new Islamic regime, but kept Iran's payment.
Republicans have called the cash payments ransom for the prisoners, but experts told Congress
earlier this month that the deal was legal.
Iran expert Farideh Farhi says the payment was not only legal, but a clever way to ensure Iran released the four American prisoners.
"It's not a ransom. [Republicans] are just making an issue out of something that is not there. It was actually good diplomacy on the part of the United States," Farhi, affiliate graduate faculty of political science at the University of Hawaii, said in an interview.
According to Farhi, Republican posturing on the issue is part of an effort to sustain antagonism toward Iran and use it as "political capital" to try to undermine the landmark Iran nuclear deal under a new administration.
The U.S. reached the deal with Iran in conjunction with the U.K., Russia, France, China and Germany, which required the country to give up parts of its nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions.
Since its implementation in January, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is tasked with overseeing Iran's compliance, has said consistently that Iran has complied, Farhi said.
Several weeks ago, Reuters reported on a confidential report from the agency, which confirmed again that Iran is in compliance with its obligations.
Despite these reports, Republican lawmakers continue to deride the deal and have tied the cash payments to it.
"These cash payments to Iran undermine American security for the contemptible goal of propping up a failed nuclear deal that undermines global security," House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in a statement after the House passed the Prohibiting Future Ransom Payments to Iran Act.
But Farhi says that nuclear nonproliferation is working "fabulously" under the deal, a fact that its opponents want to detract from by claiming the deal does not eliminate Iran's nuclear program, and has not translated into Iran's good behavior in the region.
The deal was not designed to eliminate Iran's nuclear program, but to distinguish between a peaceful program and a weaponized program, Farhi said. Though there was hope the deal would lead to other improvements, resistance by hardliners inside both the U.S. and Iran have undercut this possibility.
But that was not part of the deal, Farhi noted.
"The nuclear deal was not supposed to work in other areas," she said. "It was a very, very specific deal."
Farhi says that President Barack Obama's vigilant defense of the agreement, and his threat to veto legislation intended to undermine it, have deterred Republicans from trying.
But a new administration could change that. Farhi says the deal will require repeated executive defense from its detractors.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has made contradictory statements on the deal, vowing on the one hand to shred it, while promising to force Iran to follow through on its commitments.
"He has spoken from both sides of his mouth," Farhi said. "So we really do not know."
While Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has supported the deal, Farhi says it remains unclear whether she will maintain the Obama administration's level of pushback against legislative action that could undermine it.
Without a firm commitment to the deal from the next president, the U.S. could appear to Iran as though it is not living up to its end of the agreement.
"That places the onus on the Iranians to make a decision whether to undercut the deal, to leave the deal or not," Farhi said.
And that is what the deal's detractors want, she added.
"Actually what these folks are hoping is to create an environment in which the United States does not pull out of the agreement, but the Iranians pull out of the agreement so the United States is not blamed for it," she said.
Farhi indicated that Iranian hardliners could make a case that the U.S. is not following the agreement if it looks as though it lacks commitment to its terms.
She noted the U.S. Treasury Department's reluctance to allow any economic activity with Iran since implementation of the nuclear deal in January.
However, on Wednesday the agency granted airline manufacturers Boeing and Airbus the required export licenses they need to sell aircraft to Iran, which it had been dragging its feet on.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has indicated that the president will veto the Prohibiting Future Ransom Payments to Iran Act should it land on his desk.