Wall Street Journal: U.S. lawmakers approved new legislation against Iran Thursday that aims to significantly increase the penalties on international firms doing business with Iranian banks, energy firms and the businesses of Tehran’s elite military unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The Wall Street Journal
By JAY SOLOMON And COREY BOLES
WASHINGTON—U.S. lawmakers approved new legislation against Iran Thursday that aims to significantly increase the penalties on international firms doing business with Iranian banks, energy firms and the businesses of Tehran’s elite military unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The Senate unanimously passed the legislation, while the House of Representatives approved the bill by a vote of 408-8, with one lawmaker voting present. The White House by law has 10 days to either sign the bill into law or register a veto.
U.S. lawmakers involved in drafting the bill said it specifically aims to eliminate loopholes they say allowed Iranian banks sanctioned by the United Nations to continue to conduct financial transactions with dozens of European, Asian and Middle Eastern firms in recent years.
The new U.S. legislation would ban any international firms aiding these designated Iranian banks from conducting business inside the U.S.
The same would be true for firms aiding Iran’s oil-and-gas sector or firms linked to the Revolutionary Guard.
“These sanctions have the potential to drive the highest cost for Iran in the shortest time,” Howard Berman (D.-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said. “If you’re doing business with these Iranian firms, you can’t have a corresponding relationship with a U.S. bank.”
U.S. officials said they have tried to moderate some elements of the law in order to allow President Barack Obama greater flexibility in conducting diplomatic outreach toward Tehran.
These officials said, however, that they expected Mr. Obama to sign the law without significant new modifications.
The Obama administration views the new legislation as augmenting sanctions on Iran passed this month by the U.N. Security Council, as well as new financial penalties pursued against Iran by the European Union.
Mr. Obama has said he hopes the financial pressure will lead Iran’s leadership to resume negotiations with the international community aimed at curtailing Tehran’s nuclear program.
U.S. lawmakers said the new legislation significantly strengthens previous sanctions enacted by Congress against Iran.
It requires the U.S. Treasury to list the businesses linked to the Revolutionary Guard as well as the foreign firms doing business with them. It does the same for designated Iranian banks and Tehran’s energy companies.
The White House could still employ a waiver for specific countries and international firms doing business with Iran. But lawmakers said this would come at a political cost to the White House and the international firms involved.
“The waiver has the name-and-shame effect, and there’s a political-cost effect for the president,” Mr. Berman said. “It undercuts the argument that he’s serious about stopping Iran.”
The legislation also aims to support the Iranian political opposition that emerged last year to challenge President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election, said U.S. lawmakers. The bill targets international firms that sell technologies to the Iranian government that can be used to suppress political dissent. But it also seeks to insure that Iranian dissidents can get software and other tools that allow them to evade government censors.