June 22, 2010 | Los Angeles Times

House, Senate Agree on Stiffer Iran Sanctions

WASHINGTON — House and Senate negotiators reached agreement Monday on legislation that would impose additional U.S. sanctions against Iran in hopes the economic punishment convinces Tehran to curb its nuclear ambitions.

The new penalties would come on top of a fourth round of United Nations Security Council sanctions, and would be in addition to new unilateral sanctions by the United States and the European Union.

The legislation gives the Congress a new role in the sanctions effort that until now has been largely carried on by the Treasury Department. It would provide new money for enforcement, and new rules intended to give added force to the administration’s efforts.

The legislation would impose sanctions on foreign companies that sell refined petroleum to Iran, banks that finance the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and concerns that provide equipment or services for Iran’s energy sector. Refined petroleum includes products such as gasoline and fuel oil.

The agreement was announced Monday by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), House Foreign Relations Committee chairman, and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), Senate Banking Committee chairman. It is based on similar bills passed by the House and Senate. It still must be approved by other members of a House-Senate conference committee and by the two chambers.

The House and Senate bills passed with strong support, and congressional aides predicted the latest measure also will have strong support. Administration officials had no immediate comment.

The Obama administration failed to convince the negotiators to provide a blanket exemption for foreign companies from countries that are cooperating with the U.S. efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program. If adopted, as expected, the legislation will probably bring protests from some European and Asian countries, which have objected to the United States punishing foreign firms.

But the administration would retain the authority to waive sanctions imposed by the law. Nonetheless, targets of the sanctions still will be “named and shamed” for doing business with Iran, even if they are not otherwise penalized, analysts said.

“There’s a significant cost to having your name linked to these bad Iranian actors,” said Mark Dubowitz, of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, an advocacy group in Washington.

Berman and Dodd said in a statement that “if applied forcefully by the president, this act will bring strong new pressure to bear on Tehran in order to combat its proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, support for international terrorism and gross human rights abuses.”

It remains unclear how much damage will be done by the refined petroleum sanctions. Some analysts argue that Iran has been preparing to buy more fuel off the black market, and that the measures will strengthen the Revolutionary Guard, which has a major role in such sales.

U.S. officials and their allies charge Iran is seeking nuclear weapons know-how, while Iran insists its nuclear ambitions are peaceful.

In the midst of the international standoff, Iran on Monday barred two international nuclear inspectors from further examining its facilities, accusing them of manipulating data and leaking information to the news media.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the chief of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, told state radio that the Iranian government had formally objected to the two inspectors over a “false report” they provided to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“We asked the IAEA not to send these two inspectors to Iran any longer,” he said. Staff writers Borzou Daragahi in Berlin and Julia Damianova in Vienna contributed to this report.

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