House Passes Bill to Strengthen U.S. Sanctions on Iran

The U.S. House passed its most stringent package of sanctions against Iran just four days before Iranian President-elect Hassan Rohani, a cleric described as a moderate, takes office.

The House yesterday voted 400-20 for a measure that would subject more goods and services to sanctions, in addition to authorizing the president to impose penalties on foreign entities that maintain commercial ties with Iran. The bill, H.R. 850, intends to clamp down on resources that could be used by the Islamic republic to further its nuclear weapons capabilities, such as access to foreign-currency markets.

“New president or not, I am convinced that Iran’s Supreme Leader intends to continue on this path,” Representative Ed Royce, a California Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on the House floor, referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “That’s unless the sanctions bite so bad the regime must relent or face upheaval. That’s why this legislation dramatically steps up the pressure on Tehran.”

Additional sanctions “won’t do a thing to solve the nuclear issue,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araghchi said, according to the state-run Fars news agency. “If anything, it will make Iran’s resolve in securing its rights stronger.”

Surprise Win

Rohani begins his term on Aug. 4. During Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s eight years in office, Iran was hit with intensifying international sanctions over its nuclear program. President Barack Obama has said the U.S. will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised yesterday’s House vote.

“Following the Iranian elections the House of Representatives has sent a clear message to the Iranian regime that international pressure will increase until Iran meets its obligations and ceases its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability,” Netanyahu said today in a statement. “We will judge Iran by its actions alone.”

The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security said this week that the Islamic Republic may achieve the “critical capability” to process low-enriched uranium into material for a nuclear weapon without detection by inspectors by mid-2014.

Rohani was elected June 14 in a surprise victory after pledging to ease Iran’s economic and political isolation.

The timing of the House vote drew objections from some lawmakers who said that while they support sanctions, Rohani should be given a chance to improve diplomatic relations.

‘At Least Curious’

“Why aren’t we at least curious to find out whether or not President Rohani means that he wants to pursue this course of peace?” Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison said on the House floor. “I say let’s accept the olive branch extended by the Iranian people who selected a more moderate candidate.’ ’

The new sanctions got bipartisan support from the chamber’s leaders, with Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California speaking in favor.

‘‘Iran is a global menace and this bill empowers the president to act decisively to address it,” Boehner said.

Iran’s Araghchi said the U.S. may think it can “impact the political mood initiated with the coming of the new government, so as to force it to give away additional points.” He said that “such actions will have an adverse effect.”

The White House hasn’t issued a statement of administration policy on the legislation. If enacted, the bill would build upon a December 2011 law that cuts off access to the U.S. banking system for foreign financial institutions that settle oil trades with Iran’s central bank, unless their home countries get an exemption from the sanctions by significantly reducing purchases of Iranian oil.

The measures have hit Iran’s output. It was the second-biggest producer in the 12-member Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries as recently as June 2012, and has now dropped to sixth place.

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