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US Lawmakers Seek to Intensify Economic Pressure on Iran, Syria

U.S. lawmakers have introduced legislation designed to step up financial pressures on Iran. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, measures introduced in the House and Senate would target companies investing in Iran's energy sector, while other legislation is targeting Syria.

Sponsored in the House by Congressman Barney Frank and in the Senate by Barack Obama, the measure is the latest effort to intensify financial pressures on the Iranian government over its defiance of international calls to end its uranium enrichment program.

Called the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act, it would establish a U.S. government list of companies investing in Iran and remove some legal barriers for Americans who would choose to divest from those companies.

Congressman Frank appeared at a news conference with fellow Democrats and a Republican lawmaker supporting the effort.

"There are Americans who do not want to be in a position of economically supporting the policies of this government which is so threatening and de-stabilizing in so many ways, with its threats to the existence of Israel, with its quest for nuclear weapons, with its de-stabilizing role in the Middle East in general," said Frank.

In addition to putting companies with more than $20 million invested in Iran on a formal list, to be updated every six months, the bill aims to remove some key legal barriers for Americans wanting to divest funds.

It would also make it easier for investment firms and pension fund managers to divest funds from companies on the list without risking legal action, and would support divestment efforts in states, localities and at universities.

Tom Lantos, who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, asserts the divestment measure will also encourage moderate elements in Iran opposed to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's policies.

"This will strengthen their hand, it will weaken the Iranian economy, and it will contribute we hope peacefully to undermining this regime which has been so negative, both in terms of the freedom of the Iranian people internally and Iran's global position," said Lantos.

Other supporters include Republican Christopher Shays, and Democrat Stephen Lynch:

SHAYS: "Frankly, it takes away an excuse of some, that says we can't divest because of the liability. They don't have that excuse and will let people know who actually is investing in this sector."

LYNCH: "[It is] giving some options out there to some people who want to be part of the effort of building pressure on Iran."

Republicans introduced similar legislation earlier this year, with the support of Congressman Lantos, proposing a mandatory divestment by U.S. government pension funds from companies investing in Iran's energy sector.

Congressman Frank says the new Iran divestment measure will come before his House Financial Services Committee next week, adding he has not yet heard from the Bush administration on it.

He says he expects substantial support for the Iran measure, and says it and a separate bill involving divestment over the issue of Darfur in Sudan will go to the full House in June.

The Iran legislation is the latest measure targeting countries with which the U.S. has had strained relations over terrorism as well as the situation in Iraq.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen introduced a bill last week to strengthen existing U.S. sanctions against Syria and support what it calls a transition to a democratically elected government in Syria.

At the same time, an amendment to the 2008 defense authorization bill being considered by the House would prohibit the Pentagon from making purchases from any company the State Department determines to have defied the Iran-Syria Nonproliferation Act.