NYT: Lawmakers Introduce Bipartisan Measure to Toughen Iranian Sanctions

Feb 27, 2013

New York Times -- By RICK GLADSTON

As Iranian negotiators spoke in positive tones about their resumed nuclear negotiations with the big powers, Congressional lawmakers in Washington introduced legislation on Wednesday that would greatly expand the sanctions on Iran, amounting to what both supporters and critics said would be like a commercial trade embargo if fully carried out.

The bipartisan measure, which was expected to pass both the House and the Senate, would build on existing laws that restrict business dealings with Iran, widen the list of blacklisted Iranian companies and individuals and potentially block Iran’s access to its foreign bank assets held in euros. That access has been one of the country’s few remaining avenues for repatriating profits that are not held in dollars, which have been greatly constricted by other sanctions.

The legislation, named the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act, also would penalize foreign companies and individuals that violate the American sanctions by threatening them with restrictions on doing business with the United States, a coercive tactic integrated into earlier, narrower sanctions.

Representative Ed Royce, a California Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York, the committee’s ranking Democrat, who jointly introduced the legislation, said it was intended to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons ability and to penalize the country for what they called its “gross human rights violations.”

Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based group that has strongly advocated economic sanctions on Iran, said one of the legislation’s most significant provisions was its expansion of blacklisted companies to all those controlled by the government of Iran, which could number in the hundreds.

“You’re essentially cutting off these companies from strategic sectors of the Iranian economy,” he said. “It’s very severe.”

Mr. Dubowitz said he believed that by introducing the legislation on the same day as the nuclear negotiations, “Congress was sending a clear message” that economic pressure from sanctions is the only way to gain meaningful concessions from Iran.

Others said the legislation’s onerous provisions risked sending a different message to Iranian leaders, who have equated the litany of other sanctions to a gun pointed at Iran’s head. They have vowed to never capitulate in the face of what they consider arrogant American threats concerning Iran’s nuclear program, which they say is purely peaceful.

“If these things pass, they will certainly be a significant step toward a complete embargo,” said Trita Parsi, the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, a Washington-based advocacy group that supports dialogue with Iran. He said the Iranian leaders, always paranoid about American intentions, were likely to view the legislation “very carefully.”

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