A prominent House of Representatives lawmaker is proposing legislation to step up economic pressure on Iran over its nuclear ambitions. Tom Lantos, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee, detailed his plans in a hearing [Tuesday] at which a State Department official said the United States is pursuing multiple avenues, including action at the United Nations, to resolve the issue. VOA's Dan Robinson has this report.
Committee chairman Tom Lantos is pleased President Bush has decided to participate in regional discussions at which Iran as well as Syria will be present, on how to stabilize the situation in Iraq.
But he wants to ratchet up the pressure over the nuclear issue by strengthening U.S. law to increase financial costs to the Iranian government of continuing uranium enrichment, which the U.S. and allies believe is aimed at producing a nuclear weapon.
Lantos calls his measure the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007, which would target foreign companies investing in Iran's energy sector:
"If Dutch Shell moves forward with its proposed $10-billion deal with Iran, it will be sanctioned," said Tom Lantos. "If Malaysia moves forward with a similar deal, it too will be sanctioned. The same treatment will be accorded to China and India should they finalize deals with Iran. The corporate barons running giant oil companies - who have cravenly turned a blind eye to Iran's development of nuclear weapons - have come to assume that the Iran Sanctions Act will never be implemented. This charade will now come to a long overdue end."
Lantos accuses the Bush administration of crippling the Iran Sanctions Act by exercising its authority to ignore key sanctions provisions.
Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns says the administration supports the Iran Sanctions Act, which he calls a deterrent, but re-states opposition to steps he says would have the effect of "sanctioning (U.S.) allies".
Urging that the administration's multi-pronged strategy be given time to work, Burns points to negotiations in New York with other key U.N. Security Council members, including Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, on a second sanctions resolution to follow up on sanctions imposed last year:
"It is those sanctions that have worried the Iranian government," said Nicholas Burns. "When they were passed in December, I did not anticipate that they would have the impact they have had, but they have had an impact."
Burns also mentions steps to sanction Iranian banks, and support for the Lebanese government against Iranian attempts to de-stabilize it.
President Bush Tuesday called upcoming Gulf security talks an important test of Iran's willingness to be a constructive player in the Middle East:
"They will be a test of whether Iran and Syria are truly interested in being constructive forces in Iraq," said President Bush. "It will be a test for the international community to express its support for this young democracy, to support a nation that will be at peace with its neighbors. Diplomacy is going to play an important part of securing Iraq's future. Yet diplomacy will fail without a robust military strategy."
However, some Republican lawmakers oppose the U.S. decision to take part in those talks. Congressman Mike Pence spoke at the hearing:
"We are moving their direction, it seems to my vantage point, in inviting them to a regional conference," he said. "What possible commonality of interests do we think we share with them?"
Congressman Lantos' measure, which he planned to introduce Tuesday, would also prohibit the U.S. from signing nuclear cooperation accords with countries aiding Iran's nuclear program.
It would also re-impose import sanctions on Iranian exports to the United States, and declare Iran's Revolutionary Guard and Quds Force terrorist groups.