- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Despite the bitter divisions between Republicans and Democrats on almost all other fronts, two key House lawmakers announced a bipartisan bill Wednesday to boost sanctions on Iran, trying to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Rep. Edward R. Royce, the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s chairman, and Rep. Eliot L. Engel, the committee’s ranking Democrat, introduced the “Nuclear Iran Prevention Act,” seeking to deepen U.S. and European economic pressure on the Islamic Republic’s leadership.

The new bill comes just a day after the Obama administration opened the door to going the other direction, with U.S. officials joining representatives from China, France, Russia and Germany in offering to ease sanctions on Iran if the Islamic Republic agrees to curb certain aspects of its nuclear program.

Mr. Royce and Mr. Engel said they wanted to ramp up pressure on Iran. Their bill targets individuals who transfer to Iran certain technologies used to abuse human rights, those who engage in censorship and related activities against Iranian citizens, and corrupt officials who confiscate humanitarian goods.

The bill also would require the secretary of state to determine whether the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is a foreign terrorist organization.

But the core focus is the Iranian nuclear program. In addition to authorizing the White House to restrict significant commercial trade with Iran, it seeks to deny the Iranian regime hard currency by calling on the administration to work closely with European allies to work toward ceasing Euro-denominated transactions.

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“We will continue to tighten the screws on Iran,” Mr. Engel said. “I hope this crisis can be resolved through diplomacy, but words cannot be a substitute for action, and the U.S. must keep all options on the table.”

According to a report by Reuters news agency, Western officials participating in multiparty talks with Iranian officials in Kazhakstan on Tuesday offered to ease an existing ban on trade in gold and other precious metals and relax the existing embargo on oil-related products from Iran.

In addition to economic sanctions targeting Iran’s defense, aerospace and shipping communities, the Obama administration has spent recent years attempting to grow a global embargo on Iranian crude oil.

Specific details of the new potential deal were not revealed, although Iranian and U.S. officials sounded an optimistic tune Wednesday.

The parties agreed to hold another round of meetings in Istanbul on March 18. Reuters reported that Iran’s foreign minister said he was “very confident” a deal could be reached.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry, however, suggested that the Obama administration’s existing policy toward the Islamic Republic remains firm.

Iran knows what it needs to do,” Mr. Kerry told reporters after meeting with the foreign minister of France in Paris.

He added that President Obama has “made clear his determination to implement his policy that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.”

That being said, Mr. Kerry also appeared eager to stress the administration’s desire to avoid a military confrontation with Tehran. The secretary of state said he was committed to working with France and other powers “in order to lead through a diplomatic solution to lead Iran to comply with its international obligations.”

Iranian officials have consistently argued that their nuclear program is peaceful and not geared toward the development of a warhead.

The White House and most lawmakers in Washington have long dismissed the claim.


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