AP: As Iran appears to move closer to resuming nuclear activities, support has been quietly building in Congress for new US sanctions, including penalties that could affect multinational companies and recipients of US foreign aid.
WASHINGTON – As Iran appears to move closer to resuming nuclear activities, support has been quietly building in Congress for new US sanctions, including penalties that could affect multinational companies and recipients of US foreign aid.
The legislation would put the United States on a more confrontational course than the one thus far pursued by President George W. Bush’s administration. Bush has supported European efforts to offer Iran incentives in exchange for abandoning its nuclear program.
More than 200 members of the House of Representatives, almost half the body, are co-sponsoring a bill that would tighten and codify existing sanctions, bar subsidiaries of US companies from doing business in Iran and cut foreign aid to countries that have businesses investing in Iran.
Additional lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, are adding their names to the bill every week.
The bill faces big hurdles before becoming law. Support may not be as strong in the Senate, which is considering a more limited version of the bill. Key lawmakers in both chambers could block the legislation. The White House has not taken a position, but generally opposes congressional efforts to steer foreign policy.
Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations said unilateral sanctions imposed by Congress could hurt US-EU cooperation if they penalize European companies doing business in Iran.
He said it would be difficult for Bush to say he supports EU diplomacy, “but we are going to sanction the following British, French and German firms.”
The EU objected to a 1996 law that called for penalties against foreign firms that invested more than $20 million a year in Iran’s energy sector. Seeking European cooperation on Iran, neither Bush nor his predecessor, Bill Clinton, penalized companies.
The House bill now goes before the full International Relations Committee and the Senate bill to its counterpart, the Foreign Relations Committee. The chairmen of both panels, Rep. Henry Hyde and Sen. Dick Lugar, both Republicans, tend to be skeptical about sanctions and are likely to give strong weight to the administration’s viewpoint.