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The House of Representatives voted Thursday to impose mandatory sanctions on entities that provide goods or services for Iran's weapons programs. The vote came as US diplomats continued to press the UN Security Council to penalize Iran if it fails to end its uranium enrichment program.
House sponsors of the Iran Freedom Support Act said they expected the Senate to act quickly on the measure, sending it to President George W. Bush for his signature this week.
The bill, passed by a voice vote, sanctions any entity that contributes to Iran's ability to acquire chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. The president has the authority to waive those sanctions, but only when he can show that it is in the vital national interest.
"It would be a critical mistake to allow a regime with a track record as bloody and as dangerous as Iran to obtain nuclear weapons," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, sponsor of the measure. "Enough with the carrots. It's time for the stick."
But critics questioned the need for unilateral action when the United States was pushing for a multinational approach to Iran's alleged nuclear program. "It is, if you will, a cruise missile aimed at a difficult diplomatic effort just as they are reaching their most sensitive point," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer. "The timing for this legislation could not be worse."
The measure codifies existing economic sanctions against the Teheran government that have been in effect since the takeover of the US embassy in 1979 and states that the president must notify Congress 15 days before terminating any of those sanctions.
It also approves assistance for human rights, pro-democracy and independent organizations and states that it is the sense of Congress that the United States should not enter into agreements with governments that are assisting Iran's nuclear program or transferring weapons or missiles to Iran.
"If we fail to use the economic and diplomatic tools available to us, the world will face a nightmare that knows no end," said Rep. Tom Lantos.
But others warned that language in the bill supporting democratic change in Iran would only antagonize people in Iran who might see parallels to US regime change objectives in neighboring Iraq. It is time, said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, "to give assurance to Iran that we are not going to attack them."
The House passed a similar Iran sanctions bill last April, but that measure met opposition from the administration, which said it reduced the flexibility it needed to reach a diplomatic solution to Iran's uranium enrichment program and the threat that it was developing nuclear weapons. That proposal was defeated in the Senate.
The revised version takes out one section that would have cut off aid to countries, such as Russia, investing in projects in Iran that could be linked to weapons proliferation. The legislation also in effect alters the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act of 10 years ago by taking away restrictions on Libya, which is now cooperating with the West in eliminating weapons of mass destruction.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday again rejected demands that Teheran suspend its uranium enrichment activities, repeating that Iran would continue pursuing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.