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US House Approves Tough New Sanctions on Iran

Petrochemical plant at an Iranian port. (2011 photo) New sanctions target Iran's oil-dependent economy
CAPITOL HILL — The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed tough new economic sanctions designed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The bill passed the House by a vote of 421 to 6. It was crafted with the Senate, which is expected to approve the measure this week.

House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Florida, hailed the unity in both chambers of Congress behind a bill to take more action against the Tehran government.

"This bipartisan, bicameral agreement seeks to tighten the choke hold on the regime beyond anything that has been done before," Ros-Lehtinen said.

The bill would blacklist anyone who mines uranium with Iran, provides oil tankers to Iran or provides insurance to the state-run shipping line. The bill would also make it difficult for Iran to repatriate money earned from oil sales, depriving the country of 80 percent of its hard currency income. It also would prohibit any commercial activity with Iran's oil and natural gas sectors.

The United States and several European Union countries say that depriving the Tehran government of oil revenues is a way of deterring Iran from its suspected efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran says that its nuclear program is for peaceful, civilian purposes.

The bill enjoys broad and enthusiastic support among Democrats and Republicans. But there were two strong voices of dissent -- Democratic Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Republican Representative Ron Paul of Texas.

Paul said the calls for tough sanctions amount to an act of war, and that it sounds all too familiar to him.

"It is so similar to what we went through in the early part of this last decade when we were beating the war drums to go to war against Iraq. And it was all a facade. There was no danger from Iraq. So this is what we are doing, beating the war drums once again," Paul said.

Paul and Kucinich said the sanctions would hurt the Iranian people, and that they would put the United States on a path to war with Iran.

Democratic Representative Howard Berman of California strongly disagreed, pointing out that the International Atomic Energy Agency also is concerned about Iran's nuclear program.

"This is not the next step to war. This is the alternative to war. Iran having a nuclear weapon is unacceptable for many, many reasons. It means the end of the nonproliferation regime," Berman said

The House vote comes one day after President Barack Obama announced additional sanctions against Iran, targeting its oil and petrochemical sector and two foreign banks that have been conducting transactions on Iran's behalf. The White House says Iran has an opportunity through diplomacy to meet international obligations on its nuclear program, but that if Tehran fails to meet its obligations, the global community will keep ratcheting up the pressure.