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U.S. senators set bipartisan bill to tighten sanctions on Iran

(Updates with Corker talking to administration, paragraph 11)

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON, March 23 (Reuters) - Iran would face tighter U.S. sanctions over ballistic missile launches and other non-nuclear activities under a bill announced on Thursday by a bipartisan group of senators, echoing a harder line on Tehran espoused by Republican President Donald Trump.

The bill has seven Republican and seven Democratic sponsors, and aides said it has a good chance of eventually becoming law.

It would set mandatory sanctions for anyone involved with Iran's ballistic missile program. And it would apply sanctions to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), putting into law sanctions imposed via executive order on individuals tied to what the bill's sponsors describe as Iranian support for terrorism.

The IRGC, an elite military body, is powerful in Iranian politics and the economy.

The legislation would also require the U.S. president to block the property of any person or entity involved in specific activities that violate the U.N. arms embargo on Iran.

Iran has suggested about past proposed sanctions bills that they would violate the international nuclear agreement reached during the administration of former President Barack Obama.

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, a co-author of the measure, told Reuters the new bill had been written not to interfere with that accord.

"We assiduously worked to make sure that no provisions actually affect the agreement as it is," he said in an interview.

Aides said the bill is expected to pass the Senate because of the breadth of its support. Its lead sponsors include Republican Senator Bob Corker, the foreign relations committee chairman, and Ben Cardin, the panel's ranking Democrat.


TRUMP WANTS HARD LINE ON IRAN

While the legislation would be expected to have strong Republican support, it would also need Democrats' backing to advance in the Senate. To become law, the measure would also have to get through the House of Representatives and be signed by Trump.

Trump has made clear he wants to take a tough stance against Iran. A spokeswoman for Corker said he had been consulting with the Trump administration.

In February, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on 25 individuals and entities in Iran, which it said were just "initial steps" in its effort to counteract what it sees as provocations.

Tehran has angered Washington by supporting Yemen's rebel Houthi movement, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his country's six-year-long civil war. It has also conducted repeated tests of ballistic missile technology in violation of a U.N. resolution.

Menendez said the bill was intended to take a "regional" strategy because of the breadth of Iran's activities.

"It calls for a regional strategy because Iran is obviously involved in the region in various ways, whether it be in Yemen or Syria and beyond," he told Reuters.

The bill was announced just before Sunday's start of the annual conference in Washington of the influential pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and James Dalgleish)