Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The House yesterday overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill that toughens sanctions against Iran until the country dismantles its nuclear programs, with supporters saying the move is a “key component of our war on terror.”

Lawmakers voted 397-21 for the Iran Freedom Support Act, created “to hold the current regime in Iran accountable for its threatening behavior and to support a transition to democracy in Iran.”

The bill sends the message “the United States expects Iran to be a responsible member of the international community,” said House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

But opponents from both parties argued the bill undermines diplomacy and is a first step to war with Iran.

Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican, said the measure reminds him of a 1998 congressional resolution that called for regime change in Iraq, which he thinks was the first step to the “very unpopular, expensive” Iraq war.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Oregon Democrat, noted all lawmakers “hate this regime,” but he favors “strong, smart, constructive, diplomatic efforts” — characteristics that he says are not present in the bill.

“I am very worried about where this all ends,” he said.

Supporters repeatedly said the bill “does not authorize the use of force.”

“If the U.S. fails to act with clarity … the potential consequences of inaction could be catastrophic,” said Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican. “This is real.”

Several supporters mentioned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent statement that Israel “must be wiped off the map.”

Rep. Eric Cantor, who is Jewish, said Congress must take such threats seriously. “This bill should be the first step and not the last,” the Virginia Republican said.

That’s what opponents fear.

“It is bad for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, but there are things that are worse,” such as giving the country a reason to use one, said Rep. Jim Leach, Iowa Republican.

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich said the Bush administration has “made a mess of international relations,” with the war in Iraq.

“Don’t we have enough problems in Iraq to clean up before setting the stage for another conflict with Iran?” the Ohio Democrat asked.

Under the bill, the mandatory sanctions must remain in place until Iran dismantles its weapons programs and presents no threat to the national security of this country or its allies.

It also calls for sanctions against countries that supply Iran with materials for weapons of mass destruction and denies U.S. assistance to countries invested in Iran’s energy sector.

Bush administration officials previously said the sanctions bill could harm its own negotiations with Iran.

Mr. Pence said the president is not opposed to the resolution, sponsored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican.

A Senate version is pending in the Foreign Relations Committee.

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