AFP: The US Congress could approve as early as Thursday a sweeping new package of sanctions on Iran, aiming to force Tehran to halt its suspect nuclear program by choking off its gasoline imports.
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US Congress could approve as early as Thursday a sweeping new package of sanctions on Iran, aiming to force Tehran to halt its suspect nuclear program by choking off its gasoline imports.
World powers led by Washington have accused the Islamic republic of seeking to build nuclear weapons and demanding it freeze its uranium enrichment activity, which can be a key step towards developing an atomic arsenal.
The House of Representatives set the stage for a late afternoon vote, while the Senate’s senior leaders sought to clear a path on the chamber’s crowded schedule to take up the measure sometime during the day, officials said.
The legislation, which President Barack Obama could sign shortly after passage, aims to build on new UN Security Council and European Union sanctions amid warnings that time may be getting short for a diplomatic solution.
The bill would deny access to US markets to firms that provide Iran with refined petroleum products, like gasoline or jet fuel, that the oil-rich nation must import to meet demand because of a weak domestic refining capability.
The measure also takes aim at firms in that do business in Iran’s energy sector, including non-US companies that provide financing, insurance, or shipping services.
It could also see non-US banks doing business with certain blacklisted Iranian entities — including Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and several banks — shut out of the US financial system.
The bill would also enable US states and local governments to divest from foreign firms engaged in Iran’s energy sector, and would tighten the existing US trade embargo on Iranian goods by curbing the number of exempted products.
US officials cautioned this week that Iran has anticipated efforts to squeeze its gasoline imports, changing its consumption patterns and stockpiling needed fuel to reduce its dependence.
“This is a vulnerability and we think it’s one that could be exploited,” Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “It’s not a silver bullet.”
Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns told the panel that Iran had decreased its dependence on imports to 25 percent of domestic consumption, instead of 40 percent a few years ago.