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US House of Representatives to Tighten Economic Sanctions on Iran

The House of Representatives is poised to take legislative steps to increase the economic costs to Iran of pursuing its uranium enrichment program. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill that a vote is expected Tuesday.

Congress has been steadily ramping up pressure on Iran, with a range of measures aimed at restricting investments in Iran, banning Iranian imports, and targeting Iran's uranium enrichment efforts.

The Iranian government maintains that these efforts are for peaceful energy purposes, while the United States and its allies say Iran is also developing a nuclear weapon.

On Monday, the House considered two pieces of legislation, including one approved by the House Financial Services Committee, to step up divestment efforts regarding Iran.

The Iran Sanctions Enabling Act directs the U.S. Treasury Department to publish an Internet-accessible list of persons or entities in or outside of the United States investing more than $20 million in Iran's energy sector, selling arms to Tehran or extending $20 million or more in credit to Iran's government.

"If we can dry up Iran's access to foreign investment," said Brad Sherman, a California Democrat. "If we can sever the ties between the multinational corporations and the government of Iran, we may be able to increases the costs of Iran's behavior and put enough pressure on that regime so either it decides, or its people insist, that it abandon its nuclear programs."

Lawmakers say the measure establishes clear congressional authorization for local and state governments and educational institutions to divest from Iran's energy infrastructure, while giving private and public fund managers a legal shield against civil or criminal charges linked to divestment decisions.

It also calls for the U.S. government's federal employee retirement fund to initiate what is called a "terror-free" investment option.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was among Republicans rising in support, saying similar legislation she proposed earlier this year would have gone further.

"I am concerned that this bill merely authorizes divestment from companies investing in Iran, rather than making divestment from those companies mandatory," she said.

House lawmakers also amend the main existing sanctions law regarding Iran, the Iran Sanctions Act, to expand and clarify the definition of companies and entities subject to sanctions.

Included now would be financial institutions, insurers, guarantors, foreign subsidiaries and export credit agencies, while petroleum by-products and liquefied natural gas would be added to a category of petroleum resources.

Many in Congress are unhappy with what they consider to be weak enforcement of sanctions by the Bush administration, something American Samoa delegate Eni Faleomavaega says would change under the measure.

"It is more than lamentable that the administration in face has never once availed itself of the potent tools that the Iran Sanctions Act offers to deter such investment," said Faleomavaega. "But the administration can rest assured that we will hold its feet to the fire in this session. For the sake of U.S. interests and world peace, both the executive branch and the Congress must do everything in [their] power to prevent the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran."

Other House measures include bills to ban all imports from Iran, and one to establish an international nuclear fuel supply bank, a proposal aimed directly at Iran's justifications for nuclear enrichment.

Lawmakers also want to deny a nuclear cooperation agreements to countries assisting Iran's nuclear efforts, and to declare Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist group.

Last week, House lawmakers also approved a provision to a bill reauthorizing the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to bar that organization's investment in Iran, along with Sudan and North Korea.