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US Lawmakers Approve Sanctions Measure Against Iran

US lawmakers have criticized Iran's government for continuing its uranium enrichment program as House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation that, if passed by full Congress and signed by President Barack Obama, would expand existing sanctions targeting Iran's refined petroleum infrastructure.

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The Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act has enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support.  This has intensified as the Obama administration's outreach to Iran has been rebuffed and Tehran has defied international demands by expanding its nuclear enrichment program.

Approved in the House by a vote of 412 to 12, the measure targets Iran's dependence on imported gasoline.  It stiffens penalties for companies involved in supplying Iran with as much as 40 percent of its refined petroleum needs by denying them access to U.S markets.

Howard Berman, Democratic Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said Congress is forced to act because Iran has responded to President Obama's outstretched hand with a "clenched fist."

"I believe that passage and implementation of this act would have a powerful effect on the Iranian economy.  And I believe it would force unpalatable budgetary choices on the Iranian regime, vastly increasing the domestic political cost of pursuing its nuclear program," he said.

Concern about Iran's nuclear program, which the United States and other governments say is aimed at developing nuclear weapons, was intensified by Iran's announcement that it would build 10 more nuclear plants and construct thousands of additional centrifuges to process uranium.  Tehran maintains that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Lawmakers referred to a report Tuesday in The Washington Post newspaper, saying that Western and United Nations officials are analyzing an Iranian technical document that appears to show Iranian scientists evaluating or testing a component crucial to detonating a nuclear warhead.

Tuesday's debate found Democrats and Republicans supporting the bill, while opponents asserted that sanctions would be ineffective and harm President Obama's ongoing diplomatic efforts with Iran.

Speaker of the House Democrat Nancy Pelosi said the legislation and the waiver authority it contains, would strengthen President Obama's diplomatic hand, while Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen stressed the threat an Iranian nuclear weapon would pose.

PELOSI:  "With this legislation today we strengthen the president's hand to use or to withhold this particular sanction, but to have the capability to use diplomacy in a stronger way."
LEHTINEN:  "Iran has manipulated nations, world leaders and the United Nations on its march toward possessing the capacity to unleash nuclear havoc on the world."

Representatives Dennis Kucinich and Stephen Lynch were among the nine Democrats and three Republicans who voted against the measure.

KUCINICH:  "This legislation obstructs the Obama administration's ongoing negotiations with Iran, amounts to economic warfare against the Iranian people, and brings us closer to an unnecessary military confrontation."
LYNCH:  "This bill will help [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad.  This will have the same effect that we have seen with other embargos and sanctions."

Representative Mark Kirk, a Republican and co-sponsor of the first gasoline sanction proposals in 2005, disagreed saying the measure would be effective.

"A restriction of gasoline deliveries to Iran, administered through multilateral sanctions and enforced by the world's most powerful navies, will pit our greatest strength against Iran's greatest weakness -- all without a shot being fired," he said.

Approval of the House version comes amid questions of whether the U.S. Senate will act on a similar measure it has before the end of the year.

Last week, the State Department voiced concern that the Senate bill in its current form "might weaken rather than strengthen international unity and support" for U.S efforts on Iran.  Negotiations are continuing.

Looking ahead to the task of reconciling the House and Senate bills, Representive Berman said he remains open to adjustments that would encourage other nations to support a strong regime of multilateral sanctions against Iran, including the possibility of exempting companies whose host nations are already enforcing robust sanctions in their national laws.

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