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Monday 30 July 2012
WASHINGTON – House and Senate negotiators pushed to finish a new round of stifling sanctions on Iran, targeting energy, shipping and insurance sectors with punitive measures to derail Tehran's suspected push for nuclear weapons.
Lawmakers hoped to unveil a final bill late Monday, with a House vote as early as Wednesday. Congress has just a week before a monthlong August recess and members see the legislation as the last chance to impose crippling penalties on Iran.
Sanctions have broad bipartisan support in Congress and in a crucial boost to the measure's prospects, officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, said they support the legislation.
The draft bill would essentially sanction any transaction related to the energy sector and prohibit Iran from transferring money back to the country from oil sales to foreign nations.
Any company shipping proliferation-sensitive goods to Iran would be subject to penalties under the bill, a provision pushed by Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.
The bill also would deny visas and freeze assets on individuals and companies that supply Iran with technology that could be used against its citizens, such as tear gas, rubber bullets and surveillance equipment. The bill extends those sanctions on human rights violators to Syria, where President Bashar Assad's regime is accused of a bloody crackdown against protesters
The bill targets Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and requires companies that trade on the U.S. stock exchange to disclose any Iran-related business to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
A few lawmakers said they were frustrated that the legislation didn't go far enough. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., the chairman of the Banking Committee, have been negotiating for weeks to reconcile a bill the House passed in December and one the Senate backed in May.
Several proponents of tough sanctions such as Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Rep. Robert Dold, R-Ill., and Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., had pressed negotiators to blacklist Iran's energy sector, labeling it a "zone of proliferation concern" that effectively bans all business.
But the draft bill says the president shall impose sanctions and the provision is non-binding.
Lawmakers also pushed for sanctions on the directors and shareholders of organizations like SWIFT, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, unless they stop providing services to the Central Bank of Iran. The draft bill does not target the directors.
Mark Dubowitz, a sanctions expert and executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, described the legislation as a "strong bill that fills numerous loopholes and tightens the sanctions requirements but it could be a lot tougher" if Congress understood as much about the psychology as legality. Dubowitz said Iran often figures out ways to get around the penalties.
The new legislation builds on penalties that went into effect this year. Those sanctions target foreign financial institutions that do business with Iran's central bank by barring them from opening or maintaining correspondent operations in the United States. It applies to foreign central banks only for transactions that involve the sale or purchase of petroleum or petroleum products.