Friday, October 30, 2009

House Committee Approves Expanded I.R. Iran Sanctions

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VOA News

A key congressional committee has approved legislation to expand sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear ambitions. The Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act is aimed at placing additional pressure on Iran by punishing companies involved in assisting Iran's petroleum sector and gasoline imports. Although a major oil producer, Iran must import most of its gasoline because of a lack of refining capacity, creating what U.S. lawmakers have long seen as a crucial point of leverage with Tehran over its nuclear program. The legislation crafted by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman, like a similar bill in the Senate, would prohibit non-U.S. companies selling, or enabling the sale or transport of refined petroleum products to Iran, from doing business in the United States. Berman says the legislation would be only one point of pressure on Iran to roll back its uranium-enrichment program, which the United States believes is aimed at producing a nuclear weapon.

"It is not a magic bullet, but it will at least force the Iranians to think twice about continuing to flout the will of the international community.," he said. Iran says its uranium-enrichment program is designed only for electricity generating purposes, and has allowed U.N. inspectors to visit a previously secret processing facility near the city of Qom. Congressman Berman and at least 330 lawmakers supporting the bill, which expands the scope of sanctions to oil pipelines and tankers, say that despite some signs of progress in negotiations with Iran, Congress must step up pressure on Tehran. Republicans and Democrats expressed identical concerns that by engaging in negotiations, Iran may be playing for time in an effort to move ahead with weapons-related enrichment. Ileana Ros Lehtinen is the ranking committee Republican "It should be clear that unless we impose the maximum pressure on Iran, and this bill is a major step forward in that direction, the regime will continue its march toward acquiring nuclear weapons, dominating the Persian Gulf, and expanding its network of radical militants around the world," he said. The Senate Banking Committee is scheduled to vote Thursday on legislation identical to the House bill, and a separate provision also mirroring House action to encourage financial divestment from Iran by U.S. companies and pension funds. (Read more...)