A U.S. Senate panel has approved legislation that would tighten sanctions against Iran in an effort to press that country to halt its uranium enrichment program.   The bill would also increase pressure on Russia as well as U.S. companies that do business with Iran.  The action comes in the wake of President Bush's week-long tour of Europe, where he sought support from European Union leaders for tougher sanctions on Iran.  VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

The bill approved by the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday would include a new ban on the export of  U.S.-made aircraft parts to Iran and would no longer allow the import of Iranian carpets, caviar, nuts and dried fruit to the United States.  

The bill, which still needs to be considered by the full Senate, would continue to allow food, medicine and other humanitarian assistance to be sent to Iran.

The measure would bar the U.S. from granting export licenses for nuclear-related goods and services to Russia until the President certifies that Russia has suspended nuclear assistance and arms sales to Iran.  It would impose penalties against U.S. companies if their foreign subsidiaries do business with Iran.

The legislation also would require the United States to reduce its contributions to the World Bank if the organization continues to provide loans to Iran.

In addition, the measure would establish exchange programs between Americans and Iranians, and would require that the U.S. government-run Persian language network, Radio Farda, devote a greater percentage of its broadcasts to news and analysis.  

Democrats and Republicans alike praised the bill.

Senator Ron Wyden said the sponsors of the measure struck the right balance.

"I think you have introduced a package of sanctions on Iran that is both tough and smart," he said.

Senator Gordon Smith, an Oregon Republican, believes sanctions will be more effective in pressuring Iran than the threat of military action.  President Bush has said the U.S. is keeping all options on the table as it tries to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

"I believe in diplomacy," said Smith.  "I would rather withhold dollars and Euros than spend bullets and lives."

Iran has maintained that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

It is not clear when the full Senate will act on the sanctions bill.  Other Senate committees are working on their own drafts of the legislation.

The House of Representatives has already passed its version of the bill.