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US Senators Push for Human Rights Sanctions on Iran

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Cindy Saine

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has introduced legislation to punish Iranian officials responsible for human rights abuses against their own people.  The announcement came on the day that Iran marked its 31st anniversary as an Islamic Republic and its president declared the country is now a nuclear state.  

Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona told reporters on Capitol Hill that Thursday's anniversary marks a human rights violation record by the Iranian government many would rather forget.

"Thirty-one years of a regime that puts its own selfish interests and those of foreign terrorist groups ahead of the needs of the Iranian people," said John McCain. "Thirty-one years of justice denied, freedom curtailed and dignity trampled."

Senator McCain led a bipartisan group of about 10 senators in  introducing legislation requiring President Barack Obama to compile a list of individuals in Iran who are responsible for human rights violations against Iranian citizens and their families anywhere in the world.  Senator McCain said the list would then be made public on the web sites of the U.S. State Department and Treasury Department.

"We will shine a light on the names of Iran's human rights abusers, and we will make them famous for their crimes," he said.

Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana said the push for the human rights bill is timely, not only because it is the day of Iran's 31st anniversary,but because security forces attacked anti-government protesters Thursday at the anniversary celebrations in Tehran.

"People are being beaten in the streets as we speak, and their president announced today that they perhaps have taken major steps forward to becoming a nuclear power," said Evan Bayh.

The second part of the legislation would block U.S. visas and freeze any U.S. assets belonging to those responsible for crackdowns on Iranian journalists, dissidents, political opponents and other citizens.

Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut said the bill enjoys broad bipartisan support in the Senate among Republicans and Democrats, and predicted that every senator would vote for it.

"I hope that this legislation not only sends a message to their abusers, but also sends a message to the protesters, to the members of the green movement," said Joseph Lieberman.

Senator McCain, who was the Republican opponent to President Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election said President Obama's policy of reaching out to Iranian leaders is not working.

"I hope that the administration will now understand that this unclenching of the fist has not worked, it is has been over a year's delay, and the Iranians meanwhile have proceeded inexorably towards the acquisition of nuclear weapons," said McCain.

At Thursday's White House briefing, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs doubted claims by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejhad, saying we do not believe they have the capability to enrich [uranium] to the degree they say they are enriching.   Gibbs also noted the universal rights of people everywhere to peaceful protests, and said the Iranians are doing just that.

The Obama administration moved ahead this week on new sanctions targeting companies, banks and other entities affiliated with Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps suspected of aiding Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

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