November 16, 2009

House Approves Gasoline Embargo

Washington, DC – The U.S. House of Representatives last night passed the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (H.R. 2194) by a vote of 412  12, with 4 voting present. IRPSA targets Iran’s ability to import refined petroleum, which accounts for up to forty percent of the petroleum consumed in the country. Speaking in support of the sanctions bill, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), said “we must impose sanctions so painful they threaten the [Iranian] regime’s survival.”

The overriding opinion expressed by supporters of IRPSA was that sanctions are necessary as a result of failure to reach a diplomatic solution since talks began in October. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) supported H.R. 2194 saying that Iran has ignored the nuclear enrichment offers put forward by the P5+1 countries, and, therefore, the time has come for “the international community to consider stronger options.”

Both the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) supported IRPSA. In addition, an alliance of conservative evangelist leaders, including Pat Robertson, John Hagee and Gary Bauer, addressed a letter to Congress stating their support for increased sanctions against Iran.

Some supporters of the legislation, such as Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), stated their continuing belief in the necessity of diplomacy and engagement with Iran, but only if it is supported by strong consequences. There was a palatable sense that members of the House had run out of patience with Iran’s perceived stalling tactics over the nuclear talks.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) countered that line of reasoning, suggesting that IRPSA “effectively forces our president’s hand in one direction…limiting the diplomatic tools he can utilize.” This argument was echoed by Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) who pointed out that utilizing military force to prevent refined petroleum from reaching Iran will close the door on future diplomacy.

Opponents of the bill also expressed concern that H.R. 2194 will unfairly punish average Iranian citizens but will not have any measurable effect on the behavior of Iran’s leadership. During the debate preceding the vote, Rep. Kucinich referenced a NIAC press release which stated that petroleum sanctions against Iran will only increase the suffering of the Iranian people. He went on to say that the legislation sends the message to the population of Iran that the U.S. Congress likes “you so much that we’re going to cut off your home heating oil.”

One result of gasoline sanctions will be to “unify the people of Iran against us,” said Rep. Paul. IRPSA may, therefore, work at a counter-purpose to its goal of enhancing U.S. security. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) pointed out that H.R. 2194 has the potential to both enhance public support for Ahmadinejad and hurt the ability of the opposition movement to mobilize. 

The Senate is considering a similar piece of legislation, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (S. 2799), sponsored by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT).




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