Iran Nuclear NewsCongress seeks tough Iran sanctions

Congress seeks tough Iran sanctions

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AP: Democrats and Republicans alike urged the Obama administration Tuesday to endorse legislation that would significantly toughen U.S. sanctions on Iran over its suspect nuclear program and support for extremist groups.

The Associated Press

By MATTHEW LEE

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats and Republicans alike urged the Obama administration Tuesday to endorse legislation that would significantly toughen U.S. sanctions on Iran over its suspect nuclear program and support for extremist groups.

Senators on both sides of the aisle told two top Treasury and State Department officials that they should back a bill that targets exports of gasoline and other refined petroleum products to Iran and bans U.S. banks from doing business with foreign banks that provide financial services to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

In comments to the officials testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the lawmakers said that previous, less restrictive sanctions had failed to stop Iran from activities that could lead to nuclear weapons development. And they suggested that stability in the Middle East would be compromised unless the new measures are imposed.

“We’re at that point where we really need to do something,” said Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho. “We have got to get better at this because we’re going to have a real wreck on our hands.”

“It is important that we speak with a very strong voice,” said Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md.

The comments echoed those of others on the committee who heard from Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns and Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey.

The hearing was held a day after House and Senate negotiators reached agreement on new Iran sanctions legislation. Both chambers are expected to vote on it soon.

The administration last week slapped its own new penalties on Iran that build on fresh sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council earlier this month. But the legislation goes beyond what the administration has announced and the White House is seeking broader authority to waive the sanctions for national security reasons.

The bill before Congress does give the president the power to waive sanctions against companies found in violation of law, but only after the administration first publicly identifies them. Some in the administration are opposed to this, fearing it could harm relations with foreign governments.

Speaking to the committee on Tuesday, Burns said the waiver provision was “as significant a concern that I can think of” about the legislation.

The White House said late Monday that it was generally supportive of the bill and its intent to “isolate and pressure Iran.” But, it added that more work needed to be done on the bill.

“We will continue to work with the Congress over the coming days as it finalizes work on this important bill, and in our ongoing efforts to hold Iran accountable,” it said in a statement.

The legislation would add to existing sanctions by singling out for exclusion from U.S. markets entities involved in refined petroleum sales to Iran. While Iran is one of the world’s largest oil exporters, it still relies heavily on imports for refined petroleum products such as gasoline and jet fuel.

It would also impose new penalties on foreign companies, including insurance, financing and shipping companies, that assist in developing Iran’s energy sector. U.S. banks would be banned from financial transactions with foreign banks that do business with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or aid Iran’s illicit nuclear program.

The measure would also provide a legal framework by which U.S. states, local governments and other investors can curtail investments in foreign companies involved in Iran’s energy sector.

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