The US House of Representatives passed Iran sanctions legislation Wednesday, trying to add pressure to the Iranian regime even as the administration has emphasized diplomacy with Teheran.
The bill, sponsored by Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank and Illinois Republican Mark Kirk, authorizes state and local governments to divest from firms with investments of $20 million or more in Iran's oil and gas sectors, relieving some of the legal barriers currently in place.
The Senate will need to pass its own version of the bill, though the measure will likely be folded into a larger sanctions package being drafted by Senate Banking Committee chairman Chris Dodd, before being passed on for a White House signature.
Though the Obama administration has expressed some skepticism about the bill, the divestment measure was originally championed by US President Barack Obama when he was an Illinois senator.
Still, the provision is milder than that in House legislation sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman, which seeks to block gasoline exports to Iran. That measure is also expected to be at the heart of Dodd's bill.
Berman has said he would move that bill in October short major diplomatic progress in Iran, progress he and other Democrats don't feel they've seen so far despite some Iranian gestures during talks with the US and other world powers this month.
That would put the legislation on track for passage at the beginning of next year.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking during a trip to Russia on Tuesday, said that it was not yet time to proceed with sanctions. She did, however, stress the importance of laying the foundation for such pressure methods should talks fail.
To provide the legislation added impetus, George Washington University student leaders paid a visit to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to urge more action. The group, including GW Acting Politically for Israel and the head of the Republicans and Democrats on campus, also met with strong sanctions advocate Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Florida Republican who serves as the House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member.
"During a time when America is divided on so many issues, the public is largely united on Iran," the bipartisan group of student leaders said in a statement to lawmakers. "We urge you to seize on this historic opportunity" and back the legislation.
Ros-Lehtinen announced Wednesday that she also planned to speak in opposition to the Goldstone Report, which has accused Israel of war crimes in its attacks on Hamas in Gaza this past winter.
"Yet another UN assault against Israel is being launched this week via consideration of this 'fact-finding' mission's biased report, which seeks to deny the right of self-defense to the Jewish state," she planned to say. "The US and all responsible nations must oppose any efforts to grant consideration or legitimacy to this irredeemably biased report. We must support the right of Israel, the US and all free nations to defend themselves and their citizens."
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