A US Congressional committee approved Wednesday a new bill which is intended to toughen the sanctions against Iran and target international firms that invest in the Iran energy industry.
The Iran Freedom Support Act was approved in the House International Relations Committee by a 37 to 3 majority, but despite the overwhelming support it gained, it is not yet clear when it will be brought to the House floor for a vote, mainly due to the administration's opposition to the new legislation.
The proposed legislation, sponsored by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Howard Berman (D-CA) has 347 co-sponsors. It calls for tightening the existing sanctions against Iran and for action against foreign firms that conduct business with Iran, in order to exert economic pressure on the Teheran regime.
The House version of the bill demands that any foreign company that invests over $20 million in Iran's energy industry be reported and that US firms will be required to divest from these companies and not to invest in them in the future.
The proposed legislation also toughens the restrictions stated in a former law - The Iran Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) which imposes sanctions on foreign firms that make significant investments in Iran's petroleum industry.
The sponsors of the new bill claim that the administration was too lenient in imposing sanctions according to the existing law, and that is the reason there is need for a new legislation which would force the administration to act against these firms.
Since the ILSA law was passed in 1996 only one firm was found in violation of its rules. The firm was not sanctioned because former president Clinton used his waiver and determined that due to national security considerations there should be no action taken against the firm.
The Bush administration has expressed publicly its opposition to the Iran Freedom Support Act, claiming it would complicate the US's diplomatic efforts to build an international front against Iran. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said last week in a congressional hearing that the administration believes that the existing legislation concerning Iran is sufficient and that the new proposed bill might divide the international community.
"We want to keep the focus on Iran's misdeeds, not create friction and division in the camp that is confronting Iran", Burns told Congress.