Washington, Dec. 15 – The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed Wednesday a tough new sanctions bill against Iran that authorizes the Obama administration to sanction the Central Bank of Iran if it finds that the bank has supported Iran's terrorist activities.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Howard Berman, a California Democrat, said the legislation, known as the Iran Threat Reduction Act, could affect global oil markets, but that this was worth the risk in order to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Iran relies on oil exports for the vast majority of its foreign currency earnings and processes payments for its oil sales through its banking system, controlled by the Central Bank.
“This measure would cut Iran entirely off from the world's banking system, dealing an unprecedented blow to Iran's economy,” Berman said. “This may cause short term difficulties for the world's oil market, and it may rankle some of our allies, but it is necessary, because stopping Iran's nuclear program is of paramount strategic importance, and we're running out of time.”
“This bill may represent our last chance to find a peaceful means to pressure the Iranian regime into stopping its nuclear weapons program,” he added.
The bill had 368 co-sponsors and passed by 410 votes to 11.
“We need overwhelming crippling sanctions against Iranian officials and their nuclear program, and we need those sanctions to be fully implemented, with serious… penalties for their violations,” said Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican.
The bill aims to close loopholes in current sanctions related to energy and financial sanctions. It specifically targets the Central Bank of Iran by requiring the administration to submit a report on the extent to which the bank has aided terrorist activities. If the report concluded that it had, the sanctions against the bank would take effect, including blocking of assets in the U.S.
Other sanctions measures against Iran were also contained in a $662 billion defense appropriations bill for 2012. But an expected vote on that measure in the House was delayed on Wednesday. The Obama administration had reservations about other provisions in the bill unrelated to Iran.
That bill would bar foreign financial institutions doing business with Iran's central bank from opening or maintaining correspondent operations in the United States.
Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk said, “The Central Bank of Iran is the primary bankroller of Iran's global terror network, its nuclear program and other illicit activities. The time has come to collapse this terrorist and proliferation-financing institution.”
News media reported that the Obama administration, fearing that the measure could lead to higher world oil prices, had sought to water down the bill.
The United Nations Security Council has repeatedly called on Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program but the Islamic Republic has pressed ahead, while issuing frequent threats to wipe Israel off the map.