The U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation to strengthen economic sanctions against Iran over its support for terrorist groups and refusal to halt uranium enrichment. VOA's Dan Robinson reports the measure passed with an overwhelming 397 to 16 vote, and contains stinging criticisms of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The Iran Counterproliferation Act is aimed at tightening the economic screws on Iran, through import and export sanctions, and steps to dissuade foreign governments and companies, including subsidiaries of U.S. companies, from investing in Iran's energy sector.

"Iran today faces a choice between a very big carrot and a very sharp stick," said Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "It is my hope that they will take the carrot, but today we are putting the stick in place."

Among other things, the legislation expresses a non-binding "sense of Congress" that the U.S. encourage other governments to direct state-owned companies and persuade private entities to stop all investment in Iran's energy sector and exports of refined petroleum products to Iran.

Other non-binding provisions include a call to prohibit Iranian state banks from using the U.S. banking system, and support for divestment by U.S. federal and state and local pension plans from companies investing more than $20 million in Iran's energy sector.

Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen explains some of the binding changes, which include clarifications in and broadening the scope of existing law.

"This legislation under consideration today builds upon that foundation, reiterates the application of the Iran Sanctions Act to parent companies of foreign subsidiaries that engage in activities that ISA would prohibit for U.S. entities," she said.

The measure would also prohibit U.S. nuclear cooperation agreements with countries assisting Iran's nuclear program or transferring advanced conventional weapons or missiles to Iran.

It directs the president to determine whether Iran's Revolutionary Guards should be designated a terrorist organization, and placed on a list of proliferators of weapons of mass destruction, a step the Bush administration is pursuing.

A separate sanctions-related bill the House approved in August removed legal barriers to state and local divestment from companies investing more than $20 million in Iran's energy sector, although the Senate has yet to pass its version of that legislation.

In approving the measure, the House calls Iranian President Ahmadinejad's persistent denials of the Holocaust a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Lawmakers directed stinging criticisms at the Iranian leader, comparing him to 20th century tyrants and dictators such as Hitler and Stalin.

"The history of the 20th century tells us that genocidal dictators say what they will do and then do what they said," said Republicans Mark Kirk.

Republican Mike Pence said,"This is a man who is on a mis-guided mission, he is a dangerous and deluded leader and we ignore his intents at our peril.

"When Mr. Ahmadinejad says he wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth and do all kinds of other countless horrific things, he means it," Democrat Eliot Engel said.

In noting that the latest legislation does not authorize use of military force against Iran, House lawmakers nonetheless describe the prospect of Iran achieving nuclear arms as a grave threat to the United States and its allies in the Middle East.

They say the U.S. and its allies should do everything possible in diplomatic, political and economic means, to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear arms.