Senators push for business sanctions

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Nearly two dozen senators will introduce legislation Tuesday threatening punishment of foreign companies that provide gasoline and other refined petroleum products to Iran.

The Iran Sanctions Enhancement Act, a summary of which was made available to The Washington Times on Monday, would sharply escalate a U.S. economic war aimed at persuading Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and answer unresolved questions about its nuclear program.

Past legislation and White House executive orders have banned U.S. investment in Iran’s petroleum sector and barred U.S. banks from even indirect contacts with Iranian financial institutions. The new sanctions would go much further, though it is not clear how easily the measures could be enforced. They would freeze the U.S. assets of foreign companies providing refined petroleum to Iran and forbid them from doing business in the United States.

The legislation seeks to exploit the fact that while Iran is the world’s third-leading exporter of crude oil, it imports about 40 percent of its gasoline. This is because it lacks refinery capacity and government gas subsidies ensure that demand exceeds supply.

The new bill “requires the president to impose sanctions on any individual or company that provides Iran with refined petroleum resources or engages in activity that could contribute to Irans ability to import such resources,” the summary of the legislation said. Specifically, the bill would target those who sell, ship, insure or finance deliveries of gasoline and other refined petroleum products.

Both Democrats and Republicans are among the bill’s 23 sponsors. They include liberal lawmakers such as Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, as well as the conservative vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican.

For the White House, the legislation could provide leverage as it seeks direct negotiations with Tehran. Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton threatened “crippling sanctions” if negotiations fail to resolve the nuclear dispute.

The White House had no immediate comment on the legislation, however.

Thus far, Iran’s response to U.S. overtures has been mixed.

On Sunday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told ABC’s “This Week” that Iran is preparing a proposal and is ready for talks with the U.S. However, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader and the overseer of Iranian defense and foreign policy, has demanded that the U.S. change its behavior and suggested that President Obama is being manipulated by Zionists.

Iran has also convicted and jailed a U.S. reporter, Roxana Saberi, on spying charges that the Obama administration says are bogus. Ms. Saberi’s father said Monday he feared for her life almost a week after she went on a hunger strike.

“She is very, very weak and frail … she is in a bad condition. She can hardly stand up,” he told Reuters news agency. “I’m worried about her health. I’m worried about her life.”

The new legislation against Iran is in keeping with a letter sent earlier this month from House Democratic leaders to the White House expressing support for negotiations but also saying that talks cannot go on for an indefinite period.

The summary of the bill says it “supports diplomatic efforts with Iran and seeks to complement those efforts by empowering the president to impose additional sanctions on the government of Iran and certain companies doing business with Iran.”

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