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Congress Considers Bill to Force Iran to Compensate Terror Victims

FILE - "Iran shouldn't get one red cent in U.S. sanctions relief until it has paid its victims what they are owed," says Republican Representative Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania.

Congress is considering a bill that would block President Barack Obama from releasing frozen Iranian assets until Tehran pays compensation to victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism.

Republican Representative Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania is sponsor of the Justice for Victims of Iranian Terrorism Act.

"Iran shouldn't get one red cent in U.S. sanctions relief until it has paid its victims what they are owed," Meehan said. "I oppose the Iran [nuclear] deal, but surely we can all agree that Iran should not reap any benefits form the U.S. until it has compensated the families of those whose lives were taken by Iranian terrorists."

Meehan said U.S. courts have ordered Iran to pay $43.5 billion to the victims of Iranian-backed terrorist attacks and their families. They include the 1983 attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon, the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, and various other attacks on buses and shopping centers and hostage taking. Iran has yet to pay any damages.

It is unclear whether Meehan's bill has enough support to win House approval. The measure also has to get through the Senate and would need Obama's signature.

At least one victim of Iranian brutality, Sarah Shourd — who spent more than a year in solitary confinement in an Iranian prison for alleged spying in 2009 — opposes the compensation bill.

She wrote in the political journal Roll Call that forcing Iran to pay terror victims out of frozen assets would endanger other Americans still held in Iran. She said it could also derail the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, including the United States.

"Such an unrealistic restriction would not lead to release for the hostages or justice for victims of terrorism. Threatening the president's ability to provide sanctions relief threatens the deal itself," Shourd said.

Shourd called the nuclear agreement a "very good deal," one she said would increase cooperation between Iran and the United Stats and give Iran less incentive to use hostage taking as a tactic.

The agreement signed in July requires Iran to substantially cut its uranium enrichment program to prevent it from being able to build nuclear weapons. It includes a tough inspections regime to ensure Iran does not cheat.

In exchange, the U.S and its allies — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — would ease the sanctions that have wrecked the Iranian economy.

Opponents of the deal say it still leaves the door open for Iran to build a weapon in the future and that sanctions relief would give the Iranians billions of dollars they could funnel to terrorist groups.