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Thursday, August 2, 2012

House Approves Tightened Sanctions Against Iran


The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved new sanctions targeting Iran's oil industry, strengthening efforts to thwart Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Lawmakers voted 421-6 in favor of the Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Human Rights Act of 2012, a set of measures that lawmakers said would starve Iran of revenue from its energy production and shipping trade, the country's largest export sectors. The legislation would punish financial institutions, insurance companies and shippers that help Tehran sell its oil, closing loopholes that have allowed Iran to circumvent existing sanctions.

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee and is the legislation's sponsor, said the bill “blacklists virtually all of Iran's energy, financial and transportation sectors, and cuts off companies that keep doing business with Iran from access to our markets in the United S tates.”

The Senate is expected to pass the legislation this week before Congress leaves on a five-week recess.

The rush to pass new sanctions came after Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, visited Israel over the weekend and pledged to support its decisions about confronting Iran.

The White House and lawmakers have acknowledged that their pressure campaign has not deterred Iran and that multilateral negotiations over the country's nuclear program have stalled. In Israel on Monday, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta urged the American ally to give diplomatic and economic sanctions more time to work before carrying out a military strike.

In a joint statement with Mr. Panetta on Wednesday, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, acknowledged that existing sanctions had damaged Iran's economy, but said they had no impact on its nuclear program.

“Right now, the Iranian regime believes that the international community does not have the will to stop its nuclear program,” he said. “This must change, and it must change quickly, because time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out.”

Repeating assurances by the Obama administration, Mr. Panetta said the United States would not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon “and we will exert all options in the effort to ensure that that does not happen.”

The sanctions bill was endorsed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and J Street, two powerful lobby groups based in Washington.

Some lawmakers from both parties opposed the bill, including Representative Dennis J. Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio. In a floor speech before the vote, Representative Ron Paul, Republican of Texas, said passage of the new sanctions would be “an act of war.”

“We're over there poking our nose, and poking our nose in other people's affairs, just looking for the chance to start another war ,” he said. “First in Syria, then Iran. We have too many wars. We need to stop the wars. We don't have the money to fight these wars any longer.”