Washington, Dec. 13 – The U.S. Congress is on the point of passing some of the toughest sanctions ever imposed on Iran as part of a defense appropriations bill that has already garnered sweeping bipartisan support.
The provision was part of the overall $662 billion defense appropriations bill for 2012, which was expected to pass the House of Representatives late on Tuesday and the Senate by Thursday. It will target foreign financial institutions that do business with the Iranian Central Bank in Tehran which could make it more difficult for Iran to process payments from its oil exports – by far its greatest source of foreign currency.
The sanctions aim to stop Iran from moving forward with its nuclear weapons program.
These new measures would bar foreign financial institutions doing business with Iran's central bank from opening or maintaining operations in the United States.
New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez praised the efforts by House and Senate negotiators to agree upon the new sanctions that followed a 100-0 vote by the Senate last week. Sponsors say the bill will force international financial institutions to choose between doing business with Iran and doing business with the United States.
“The negotiations between the Senate and the House made minor changes that don't undermine our effort to sanction the Iranian Central Bank,” Menendez said in a statement. “The final bill remains a serious attempt to sanction the Central Bank of Iran which is complicit in Iran’s nuclear efforts, and I look forward to the President signing it into law.”
President Barack Obama was expected to do so by the end of the year.
California Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman called the measure “the best Iran bill to pass the U.S. Congress this century.”
Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk said, “The Central Bank of Iran is the primary bankroller of Iran's global terror network, its nuclear program and other illicit activities. The time has come to collapse this terrorist and proliferation-financing institution.”
News media reported that the Obama administration, fearing that the measure could lead to higher world oil prices, had sought to water down the bill. But sponsors said the changes agreed to were minor.
They gave the president slightly more flexibility in waiving some of the sanctions on national security grounds, and added the secretary of state and the director of national intelligence as consultants to a future report on how the sanctions will affect the world oil markets.
The United Nations Security Council has repeatedly called on Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program but the Islamic Republic has pressed ahead, while issuing frequent threats to wipe Israel off the map.