WASHINGTON – The House on Wednesday approved legislation to tighten sanctions against Iran, rejecting administration arguments that tougher sanctions could be an obstacle to international efforts to prevent the Tehran government from developing nuclear weapons.
The bill, said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, sends "a strong message that the United States expects Iran to be a responsible member of the international community."
The vote was overwhelming, 397-21 in favor, but there was also a vocal minority in opposition who drew comparisons to a 1998 congressional resolution calling for regime change in Iraq.
Many voted in good faith for that resolution, said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, "not knowing that later on it would be invoked as a cause for the prosecution of war against Iraq."
Supporters emphasized that the legislation does not authorize the use of force in Iran and was a proper response to the Tehran government's nuclear ambitions. A nuclear Iran, said Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J. "will be a devastating blow to peace and security, not only in the Middle East, but in the entire world."
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., in effect alters the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act of 10 years ago by strengthening sanctions against Iran while taking away restrictions on Libya, which is now cooperating with the West in eliminating weapons of mass destruction.
It states that weapons of mass destruction-related sanctions against Iran remain in effect until Iran has verified that it is dismantling its WMD programs. It requires that sanctions be imposed on any person who exports or supplies to Iran goods or technology that help Iran obtain WMDs.
The measure also states that the names of individuals, governments and companies that have invested at least $20 million in Iran's energy sector be published in the Federal Register. It denies U.S. aid to countries that are invested in Iran's energy sector, but gives the president the authority to waive such a ban on national security grounds.
It also authorizes the president to provide assistance to peaceful pro-democracy and human rights groups in Iran.
The administration, in a letter to House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., last month, said the bill could limit the flexibility needed to reach a diplomatic solution to the deadlock over Iran's nuclear program.
The State Department's legislative affairs chief, Jeffrey Bergner, wrote that it could inhibit the administration's ability "to build and maintain an international consensus to confront Iran's violations collectively."
"By sanctioning foreign countries and companies that have economic relations with Iran, this bill sanctions the very countries we need for a strong diplomatic effort," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.
Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., a supporter of the legislation, said the bill had since been changed to give the administration more of the flexibility it sought.
The bill must still be taken up in the Senate, where prospects are unclear.