(photo credit: Jeremy Wimpfheimer)
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos is set to introduce legislation this week that would tighten sanctions on Iran in a bid to increase pressure on the country to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
Under the legislation, which Lantos (D-California) announced Tuesday at a hearing on Iran, loopholes in the current US sanctions law on Iran would be closed. His office said the bill should be introduced in the next few days.
Provisions of the "Iran Counter-Proliferation Act" include designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist group, penalizing foreign oil companies with US subsidiaries doing business with Iran, removing the US president's ability to waive sanction infringement and forbidding the United States from engaging in nuclear cooperation with countries giving nuclear assistance to Iran.
At the hearing, Lantos referred specifically to two deals with Iran - one worth $10 billion with Dutch Shell and one worth $16 billion with Malaysia - which would result in sanctions for those entities.
Lantos and several other committee members criticized the administration for not doing enough with the provisions already at its disposal.
"Until now, abusing its waiver authority and other flexibility in the law, the executive branch has never sanctioned any foreign oil company which invested in Iran. Those halcyon days for the oil industry are over," Lantos told Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, who was testifying before the committee.
Committee ranking member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), who proposed her own legislation forcing US government pension funds to divest from companies doing business with Iran, asked why the government wasn't using the economic sanctions already at its disposal rather than waiving such abilities.
Burns said in his testimony that the US has had positive conversations with allies such as Japan, Germany and Italy encouraging them to reduce their financial engagement with Iran and that certain energy companies have been warned of the consequences they could face if they go ahead with their plans to invest in Iranian projects.
But, he warned, "If the focus of our efforts is to sanction our allies, not Iran, that might not be the best way to maintain this broad coalition."
He was referring to the group of countries, including Russia and China, who have signed on to the UN Security Resolution sanctioning Iran, which he said the US expects to see strengthened given Iran's defiance of international demands.
Burns also said that many assess that "the most effective weapons we have are economic ones."
Lantos noted that he proposed his legislation because it would strengthen the economic pressure felt by Iran, which would help resolve the situation peacefully.