The US Senate unanimously
approved on Monday a package of new economic sanctions on Iran's
oil sector just days ahead of a meeting in Baghdad between major
world powers and Tehran.
The West suspects Iran is working to build a nuclear bomb
and the sanctions are meant to strip Tehran of revenue by
shutting down financial deals with Iran's powerful state oil and
tanker enterprises. Iran has said its nuclear program is for
The House of Representatives passed its version of the bill
in December and now the Senate and House must work out their
differences in the legislation.
"This bill is another tool that will demonstrate to Iran
that the United States is not backing down," Robert Menendez,
the Democratic senator who helped craft the legislation, said on
the Senate floor.
"Today the US Senate put Iranian leaders on notice that
they must halt all uranium enrichment activities or face another
round of economic sanctions from the United States," said
Republican Senator Mark Kirk, a co-author of the bill, in a
New measures against oil industry build on banking sanctions
The new sanctions build on penalties signed into law by US
President Barack Obama in December against foreign institutions
trading with Iran's central bank. Those sanctions already have
cut deeply into Iran's oil trade.
The new package would extend sanctions to cover dealings
with the National Iranian Oil Co and National Iranian Tanker Co,
aiming to close a potential loophole that could have allowed
Tehran, the world's third-largest petroleum exporter, to
continue selling some of its oil.
The cumulative impact of US sanctions will be severe, said
Suzanne Maloney, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's
Saban Center for Middle East Policy.
"Right now, both sides are playing a game of chicken - the
Iranians want to see how much they can get and how little they
can give, whereas Washington and its allies are counting on the
looming threat of impending sanctions to elicit more concessions
on the part of Tehran," Maloney said.
But a former CIA analyst for the Near East and Persian Gulf
region said the sanctions could be counterproductive ahead of
the Baghdad talks on Iran's nuclear program by making Tehran
think that the West is less interested in a deal than in
undermining the regime.
"The biggest requirement now for getting an agreement is
not to pile on still more sanctions, but instead to persuade the
Iranians that if they make concessions the sanctions will be
eased," said Paul Pillar, now a security studies professor at
The Senate bill was brought up on Thursday but was blocked
by Republicans who wanted some parts toughened up. Senator John
McCain said the revised bill shows "we need a comprehensive
policy" to include economic sanctions, diplomacy, military
planning capabilities and options.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said the revisions
show Iran "that all options are on the table, in order to
prevent any contrary perception that silence on the use of force
would have created."
The bill also includes language from Senator Rand Paul that
it does not authorize force against Iran, a Paul spokeswoman