Washington, DC – The House today overwhelmingly approved legislation authored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (D-CA) that tightens economic sanctions against Iran in order to halt its efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

The Iran Counter-Proliferation Act (H.R. 1400), was adopted by a vote of 397-16 just hours before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Lantos said Ahmadinejad’s U.N. appearance was “the latest step in his campaign to remove all obstacles to Tehran’s headlong pursuit of nuclear weapons. We, in turn, must resolve to use every available peaceful means – economic, political and diplomatic – to put a stop to that deadly, dangerous pursuit.”

The Lantos legislation will remove the Executive Branch’s authority under current law to waive sanctions on companies investing in Iran’s energy sector, which supports the country’s nuclear weapons program. It also blocks U.S. civil nuclear cooperation with countries that assist Iran’s nuclear program.

“If we wish to impose serious and biting sanctions on Iran -- effective measures that will change the behavior of the regime in Tehran – it is clear what we must do,” Lantos said. “We must take away the power from the Administration to waive the sanctions we pass.”

In advocating the bill, Lantos acknowledged Iran’s right to use civilian nuclear power. “Every country has that right,” he said, “but if they all decide to get there by mastering the full nuclear fuel cycle, then the door will be wide open to an unprecedented global proliferation of nuclear weapons.”

In June the House approved the International Nuclear Fuel for Peace and Nonproliferation Act (H.R. 885), legislation that Lantos wrote to authorize the creation of an International Nuclear Fuel Bank under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“Every country -- including Iran – can draw from that bank the nuclear fuel necessary for the production of civilian energy under strict IAEA safeguards, but no nation will be able to divert nuclear materials for military purposes,” he noted.

The legislation passed today states explicitly that the Administration cannot interpret anything in the bill as a congressional authorization of a military strike on Iran. Lantos called for a “serious and continuing dialogue” between the United States and Iran, noting that during the Cold War, the Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear-tipped missiles aimed at the United States, yet American and Soviet leaders communicated daily.

“I am not alone in hoping that relations with Iran can be improved,” Lantos said. “But as long as irrationality prevails in Tehran, we must be prepared to employ all peaceful means at our disposal to ensure that the regime renounces its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran faces a choice between a very big carrot and a very sharp stick. It is my hope that they will take the carrot – but today, we are putting the stick in place.”