WASHINGTON – Closing in on the goal of imposing new penalties on Iran before the August congressional recess, the US House of Representatives debated fresh sanctions on Wednesday.

The measure was expected to be approved by the House and Senate later in the day or Thursday before being sent to the White House for the president’s signature.

The new bill would impose sanctions on anyone who invests in Iran’s petroleum or natural gas sector, who provides refined petroleum products to Iran, who joins in energy ventures with Iran or who transports Iranian crude oil, closing several existing loopholes.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Florida), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the measure a “bicameral, bipartisan agreement that represents the strongest set of sanctions ever put in place against the regime in Tehran.”

She explained that it “blacklists virtually all of Iran’s energy, financial and transportation sectors, and cuts off companies that keep doing business with Iran from access to our markets in the United States.”

The measure, in the works for several months, moved toward passage at the same time that the executive branch imposed further sanctions of its own.

The White House on Tuesday slapped additional penalties on foreign banks that facilitate the sale of Iranian oil, including the designation of a Chinese bank.

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The White House has differed with Congress on some aspects of earlier Iran sanctions legislation, as the administration has sought waivers and other measures to preserve a wide latitude in how and to what degree to implement legislative provisions, but a top aide said Tuesday that the administration embraced the current measure.

“We are reviewing the specific text of the bill that was produced, but we’re quite optimistic that we’re going to be able to continue to work in lockstep with Congress with this new legislation,” Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, told reporters on a conference call. “We certainly share the goal, and we believe it can be an important tool in adding to the sanctions regime we have in place.”

The vote Wednesday was expected to get wide support, but a few members of the House took to the floor to express their opposition.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who sought the Republican presidential nomination earlier this year, criticized the act as echoing the mistaken decision to go to war with Iraq.

“We’re beating the war drums once again,” he said, referring to Iran as “a third-world country” whose military assets can’t threaten America.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-California), ranking member of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee and a major backer of the legislation, countered Paul’s comments in his own floor remarks.

“The only hope we have for a peaceful solution is to apply enough pressure to ensure Iran ends its nuclear weapons program,” he said. Berman also indicated that both the legislation and new designations Tuesday were not “the last word” on sanctions against Iran.

“Unless Iran agrees to end its weapons program, we must continue to pursue even tougher measures that would result in crippling sanctions on the Iranian regime,” he declared.

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