The US Congress is likely to introduce a new round of sanctions targeting Iran after a Senate panel comfortably approved on Thursday a package of measures aimed at shipping, energy, mining and finance companies.
The new package of sanctions, which also includes measures that directly target individuals and companies linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, were approved unanimously by the Senate banking committee.
The vote follows the approval by Congress at the end of last year of another round of sanctions that targeted the Iranian central bank and which were considerably tougher than the Obama administration had wanted.
Iran has become one of the few issues that can sustain a bipartisan approach on Capitol Hill. While the committee vote was passed on Thursday on a voice vote, the previous sanctions bill was approved by the Senate 100-0.
Together with the European Union, which announced its own ban on oil imports from Iran last month, the US has been using tougher sanctions to both put more pressure on Iran to halt its alleged nuclear weapons programme and to make the case that there is an alternative to military action.
Speaking at a congressional hearing earlier this week, David Petraeus, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said “sanctions have been biting much, much more literally in recent weeks than they have until this time”.
However, he added: “What we have to see now is how does that play out, what is the level of popular discontent inside Iran, does that influence the strategic decision-making of the Supreme Leader and the regime, keeping in mind that the regime’s paramount goal in all that they do is their regime survival.”
The new Senate package seeks to target foreign banks that handle transactions for Iran’s national oil and tanker companies, as well as any companies or individuals engaged with Iran in the mining or transportation of uranium.
The bill also requires the administration to push for Iran’s central bank and other financial institutions to be shut out of Swift, the telecommunication network used by many banks round to world to move funds. The Treasury department would have the power to sanction Swift if it does not drop Iranian banks, according to the legislation.
In a statement on its website, the Belgium-based company said: “Swift complies fully with all applicable sanctions laws of the multiple jurisdictions in which we operate and we will continue to do so.”