WASHINGTON – Iran could face a new array of U.S. sanctions under proposed House legislation that's meant to force Tehran into international talks on its nuclear program.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Howard Berman of California, the panel's top Democrat, have introduced a bill that would impose penalties on human rights abusers in Iran, including freezing their U.S.-based assets, denying them visas and prohibiting financial or business transactions with any U.S. entity.
The round of sanctions also would target foreign companies that do energy business with Iran's Revolutionary Guard; expand help to pro-democracy groups in Iran; and require all companies, U.S. and foreign-based, that are registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission to report on whether they are conducting activities with Iran that could trigger sanctions. The bill also would restrict the travel of Iranian diplomats to a 25-mile radius of New York and Washington.
The powerful Revolutionary Guard controls companies and organizations that have links to weapons proliferation, as well as companies and organizations involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities.
"The international community has recognized the unique distinction of the Iranian institution which not only is the leading influence in the development of their nuclear program but is one of the primary forces of the repression of the Iranian peoples," Berman said in a statement. "We must stay ahead of the curve and find ways to complement the sanctions which is the best course of action to persuade Iran to change its conduct."
The new legislation, which has the backing of several key Republicans and Democrats on the committee, builds on sanctions that Congress overwhelmingly passed — and President Barack Obama signed — last summer. Those penalties targeted exports of gasoline and other refined petroleum products to Iran and banned U.S. banks from doing business with foreign banks providing services to the Revolutionary Guard. The United Nations and the European Union have also imposed sanctions on Iran.
"U.S. policy toward Iran has offered a lot of bark, but not enough bite," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "This new bipartisan legislation would bring to bear the full weight of the U.S. by seeking to close the loopholes in existing energy and financial sanctions laws, while increasing the type and number of sanctions to be imposed."
The United States has tried repeatedly to coax Iran into international negotiations with the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany over its nuclear program. Iran contends that its program is designed to generate electricity, not build weapons.
Berman said that while the world has been riveted by the democratic movements throughout the Arab world this past spring, it would be a mistake to ignore the threat posed by Iran.
"Iran's effort to get nuclear weapons capability is the most serious security challenge we face," Berman said in an interview Sunday. He specifically mentioned the proliferation of barter arrangements between Iran and others, saying the new proposed sanctions would "constrain the circumvention."
He said he had notified the Obama administration of the sanctions legislation. A similar bipartisan measure has been proposed in the Senate.
Last week, an expert panel assembled by the United Nations said Iran was continuing to use "front companies, concealment methods in shipping, financial transactions and the transfer of conventional arms and related materiel" to circumvent U.N. sanctions. But the panel also said the penalties have succeeded in slowing Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
In signing the legislation last summer, Obama said, "There should be no doubt: The United States and the international community are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."