US hits Iran with fresh sanctions

US hits Iran with fresh sanctions

WASHINGTON - The Associated Press
US hits Iran with fresh sanctions

This file photo shows Iranian President Ahmadinejad (C) as he tours the Abadan oil refinery during the inauguration of a petrol making unit in Abadan. The Western sanctions are ridiculous, says the Iranian president. AFP photo

The U.S. Congress is pressing ahead with a new package of crippling sanctions on Iran, expanding on financial penalties and targeting Tehran’s energy and shipping sectors in the hope that economic pressure will undercut its suspected nuclear weapons program.

House and Senate negotiators reached agreement late July 30, on legislation that builds on the current penalties directed at financial institutions that do business with Iran’s central bank. The new bill would impose sanctions on anyone who mines uranium with Iran; sells, leases or provides oil tankers to Tehran; or provides insurance to the National Iranian Tanker Co., the state-run shipping line.

Lawmakers hope to vote on the bill this week before their monthlong August recess, with a vote by the House of Representatives possible today. The measure has one crucial backer - the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobbying group - and extensive support from both Republicans and Democrats.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said “It updates and expands U.S. sanctions, and counters Iran’s efforts to evade them. The bill sends a clear message to the Iranian regime that the U.S. is committed, through the use of sanctions, to preventing Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold.”

The U.S. and Europe argue that depriving Iran of its oil income thwarts its suspected drive for nuclear weapons. Iran has exported 2.5 million barrels of oil a day to Europe, China, India, Japan and South Korea. U.S. officials say the penalties have reduced Iran oil exports to less than 1.8 million barrels a day, costing Tehran about $63 million daily.

‘Do what’s right’

Ros-Lehtinen and Johnson and their staffs worked for weeks behind closed doors reconciling a bill the House passed in December and one the Senate approved in May. Johnson said they incorporated a number of provisions sought by proponents of tough sanctions. The bill would penalize anyone who works in Iran’s petroleum, petrochemical or natural gas sector, or helps Tehran’s oil and gas industry by providing goods, services, technology or infrastructure. The bill would target the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and anyone who assists the paramilitary group, including foreign government agencies. The bill extends those sanctions on human rights violators to Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is accused of a bloody crackdown against protesters.

“All the sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this past weekend. Israeli leaders have contemplated a military strike on Iran to stop it from developing nuclear weapons.

Traveling in the Mideast, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta acknowledged that stiff international sanctions have yet to compel Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. He insisted that more pressure eventually would lead Iran to “do what’s right.”