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US House Approves Iran Sanctions, Senate Expected to Follow

The U.S. House of Representatives has again approved legislation to sanction entities investing in Iran's oil sector, and anyone helping Iran develop weapons of mass destruction. The measure was revised after intense consultations with the Bush administration, and a similar measure is expected to be approved by the Senate.

First passed by the House in April, the measure codifies existing U.S. sanctions against Iran since 1979, and under a 1996 law that also targeted Libya.

That law, the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (or ILSA) has been re-named the Iran Sanctions Act, recognizing Libya's decision in 2003 to give up its weapons programs.

The measure approved Thursday punishes companies or anyone providing goods, technology or services to Iran that help it acquire or develop chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or related technologies, or destabilizing numbers and types of advanced conventional weapons.

Opponents such as Congressman Earl Blumenauer asserted the measure will hurt diplomatic efforts to resolve the standoff with Tehran. "Nothing in this legislation points us in the direction of a solution. It is, if you will, a cruise missile aimed at a difficult diplomatic effort, just as they are reaching their most sensitive point," he said.

But Democrat and Republican supporters assert the measure can help. "This bill today sends a powerful message to Iran and to those who would support that country's weapons development," said Republican Roy Blunt.

House and Senate versions of the Iran Freedom Support Act also call for financial and political assistance to groups working to promote democracy in Iran. This includes independent pro-democracy Persian language radio and television organizations broadcasting to Iran.

Aid would only go to groups that oppose the use of violence and terrorism and which have not been designated as foreign terrorist organizations under U.S. law.

This, too, caused controversy, with opponents asserting such funding will only serve to weaken pro-Democracy elements in Iran.

It represents an escalation of tension, policy and attitudinally, with Iran and an escalation that is guaranteed to fail," said Republican Jim Leach.

Democrat Dennis Kucinich said "this act funds media propaganda machines to lay the groundwork for a war against Iran. It encourages and funds opposition inside Iran for that same purpose."

Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen maintains the legislation is not an alternative to diplomacy but a strong incentive for European and other allies. "This bill provides a comprehensive approach, providing U.S. officials with strong leverage to secure cooperation from our allies in order to counter the Iranian threat," he said.

House sponsors of the Iran Freedom Support Act say they expect the Senate to take up the measure and pass it before Congress adjourns, sending it to President Bush for signature.