August 1, 2013 5:31 am

US House of Representatives passes new Iran sanctions

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The US House of Representatives on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed another round of sanctions against Iran, despite Obama administration concerns that they could undermine the new Iranian president in upcoming nuclear negotiations.

The House voted 400 to 20 in favour of the sanctions. The measure aims to remove a further 1m barrels a day of Iranian oil from the market by threatening financial sanctions against countries that do not reduce shipments of oil from the country. It also blacklists several other industries in Iran.

The bill, which still needs to be approved by the Senate and signed by the president, comes ahead of this weekend’s presidential inauguration of Hassan Rohani, the most moderate of the candidates in Iran’s June elections.

Iran may have a new president, but its march toward a nuclear programme continues,” said Ed Royce, the California Republican who chairs the House foreign affairs committee and was one of the sponsors of the bill.

“The economic and political pressure on Tehran must be ratcheted up. Today the House took a critical step toward crippling this regime to prevent a nuclear Iran and the dire security consequences.”

Cliff Kupchan, an analyst at Eurasia Group, said the Senate would start considering a similar bill in September, but that its passage would be slowed by an Obama administration seeking “to test [Mr Rohani’s] ability to deliver a deal on the nuclear issue”.

New talks between Iran and the major powers over its nuclear programme are expected to start in September or October. A former nuclear negotiator who struck a relatively conciliatory tone in the election, Mr Rohani’s surprise victory has been interpreted as a sign of popular anger at economic pain imposed by tough international sanctions on Iran because of the nuclear issue.

The House went ahead with the vote despite some former officials’ calls for engagement with the new president, and for the avoidance of steps that would be viewed as hostile in Iran.

Joseph Hoar, a retired general who headed US Central Command, and Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, said last week that the House “must not snuff out hopes for Iranian moderation before Rohani even gets a chance”.

Some serving US officials have also privately questioned whether this was the right time to push new sanctions. However, the government publicly sidestepped the issue following Wednesday’s vote.

“We are going to continue working with Congress to put pressure on Iran, to isolate Iran, but also to make clear to the Iranians that we’re ready to sit down and talk with them substantively when they are,” said a state department spokesperson.

In addition to trying to take more Iranian oil off the market, the bill would curtail Iran’s ability to access its foreign exchange reserves held abroad and adds the auto and mining sectors to the existing blacklist.

Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies and a supporter of the new sanctions, said “the administration needs enhanced leverage in the next round of negotiations”.

Mr Dubowitz pointed to scepticism in Congress about the moderate credentials of the new president, who was considered a “regime loyalist” by some lawmakers.

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