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US Lawmakers Advance Legislation to Pressure Iran

Legislation that would step up pressure on Iran's government has been advanced by two committees in the U.S. House of Representatives. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.

Approved by the committees on foreign affairs and financial services, the measures aim to make it steadily more uncomfortable and economically risky for Iran's government to continue its uranium enrichment program, which the United States believes is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.

The Iran Sanctions Enabling Act would establish a U.S. government list of companies investing at least $20 million in Iran's energy sector, and remove some legal barriers for Americans who would choose to divest from those companies.

Democratic Congressman Barney Frank chairs the House financial services committee:

"It makes it very clear that the actions taken under this bill will be actions taken by the American people, by elected state governments, by elected state officials, by individuals acting with regard to their own money," said Barney Frank. "And in addition to the real impact this could have it makes a very important political point, that the revulsion at the way in which the Iranian government has conducted itself in so many aspects is widespread throughout the United States, it transcends partisan, ideological, ethnic and other bounds, and this bill gives voice to that.

Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman, a key critic of Iran in Congress, explains how the measure would make it easier for Americans to divest from Iran-invested companies or funds:

"It makes it clear that when states and localities divest, they are not blocking American foreign policy, conflicting with a foreign government, but rather they are furthering that policy and they are not just authorized they are encouraged to divest [from] companies investing in the Iranian oil sector," said Brad Sherman.

Congressman Frank says the Bush administration has urged that in moving the legislation through Congress, its sponsors ensure that it does not jeopardize U.S. efforts to get international support for diplomatic steps to deal with Iran's nuclear program.

Meanwhile, the foreign affairs committee approved legislation called the International Nuclear Fuel for Peace and Nonproliferation Act.

The bill proposes creation of an independent international nuclear fuel bank, a step Lantos says would remove what he calls the pretext Iran has given to justify its development of uranium enrichment technology it says is for peaceful purposes, but which could be for nuclear weapons:

"It is imperative that we keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of Iran, and provide a source of nuclear fuel for peaceful ends, to countries that are currently flirting with nuclear development programs," said Tom Lantos.

Lantos says the measure would promote establishment of a multilateral system to assure countries complying with nonproliferation commitments a long-term supply of nuclear fuel, while encouraging them to end uranium enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is the ranking Republican on the panel:

"It will prove to be a significant advance in the effort to prevent the further proliferation of the capacity to product nuclear weapons," said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

The legislation authorizes $50 million to establish the international nuclear fuel bank, which would be supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Congressman Lantos says his measure has the support of the Bush administration.

In another actions, the foreign affairs committee also approved two resolutions on Iran.

One calls for the Iranian government to immediately release three dual American-Iranian citizens being held for what the measure calls unjust and illegal reasons.

Another calls on the U.N. Security Council to charge Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with violating the 1948 genocide convention, because of his calls for the destruction of Israel.