In another step aimed at increasing the economic cost to Iran of its controversial nuclear enrichment program, a key congressional panel has approved legislation to impose sanctions on Iran's energy sector. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.
The House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee approved the legislation, called the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007, by a vote of 37 to 1, recommending that it be moved for consideration by the full House.
Committee chairman Tom Lantos says the measure is designed to increase the cost to Tehran of continuing to pursue nuclear weapons.
It is also aimed at ensuring that provisions of an existing law, called the Iran Sanctions Act, are enforced with regard to companies investing in Iran's energy infrastructure. "Until now, abusing its waiver authority and other flexibility in the law, the executive branch has never sanctioned any foreign oil company which invested in Iran. Those halcyon days for the oil industry are over."
Under the legislation, which has the bipartisan support of nearly 300 House lawmakers, any country aiding Iran's nuclear program will be denied a nuclear cooperation agreement with the U.S.
It calls on the U.S. president to declare Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist group and would provide authority to the president to block assets of any entity providing support to the Revolutionary Guards.
Provisions also seek to increase pressure on foreign governments, including required presidential reports to Congress on specific steps they have taken and the outcome of these efforts, particularly with regard to actions against public or private companies engaged in Iran.
Saying the ultimate goal must be "zero foreign investment" in Iran, Congressman Lantos says the legislation goes to what he calls the ultimate legal limits of what is feasible in ratcheting up financial pressure.
Among other things, it extends sanctions to petroleum by-products and liquefied natural gas, and extends the scope of sanctions to include the sale of oil tankers or liquefied natural gas vessels.
However, both Lantos and the Republican co-sponsor Ileana Ros-Lehtinen emphasize that the bill is not designed to target the Iranian people, who they describe as being subject to a new crackdown on dissent. "The regime in Iran is currently stepping up its repression of even the slightest perceived opposition," Ros-Lehtinen said.
During committee consideration, Republican Congressman Jeff Flake expressed his opposition to any stepped up unilateral action against Iran. "It is unlikely that unilateral sanctions like this will have an effect, and I think it will be less likely to achieve the type of multilateral sanctions that we would need, with this vote," he said.
But Flake's Republican colleague Dana Rohrabacher disagreed. "I don't believe that the U.S. should be hamstrung by always having to go to the political leaders of other countries, who may lack courage, and may lack the same moral guidelines that we have and expect that we are not going to act unless they do," he said.
In outlining another provision, which would re-impose a ban on all Iranian exports to the United States, Lantos said one reason for doing so is that Iran continues to hold several Americans with dual Iranian citizenship.
Sanctions would end only when the president certifies to Congress that Iran has ended efforts to design, develop, manufacture or acquire a nuclear weapon or related materials or technology, chemical and biological weapons, and ballistic missiles and launch technology.
Iran would also have to be removed from the U.S. list of governments supporting international terrorism.