October 28, 2009

Divided House Committee Passes Iran Sanctions

A divided House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA) today by voice vote. The lead sponsor of the bill and Chairman of the committee, Howard Berman (D-CA), said his overriding concern is preventing Iran from “acquiring the capacity to acquire nuclear arms.”
IRPSA would expand unilateral, extraterritorial sanctions and target companies exporting refined petroleum to Iran or helping to develop Iran’s oil refining industry. Before the hearing, Rep. Berman amended the legislation to make lifting the sanctions in it conditional on Iran ceasing all uranium enrichment.
The bill received vocal support from much of the committee, including the ranking Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). “Unless we impose the maximum pressure on Iran, and this bill is a major step forward in that direction, the regime will continue its march towards acquiring nuclear weapons,” said Rep. Ros-Lehtinen.
However, a bipartisan group of representatives voiced their opposition to the legislation.
It was pointed out by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) that many human rights defenders inside Iran, such as Shirin Ebadi, are against additional economic sanctions. Quoting Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, he said that “sanctions would not actually act against the government; rather they would only hurt the people.” Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) echoed those concerns, and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said he did not support IRPSA because unilateral sanctions are ineffective and punish American allies.
Committee members who supported IRPSA frequently stated their belief that the bill would be an effective deterrent for Iran’s government. “Since Iran imports forty percent of its refined petroleum, this legislation will have a significant impact on Iran’s economy, and will send a clear message that Iran must stop its nuclear enrichment program,” said Rep. Mike McMahon (D-NY).
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) said he would vote for the measure, but made clear he felt it was less than ideal. Meeks argued that sanctions should be targeted at Iran’s leaders, not the general population. According to Rep. Meeks, “We need to find sanctions that are going to affect those few who, in effect, have hijacked the entire country.” Meeks also emphasized that President Obama’s diplomatic efforts should be given time to succeed.
The Senate Banking Committee will consider a more expansive Iran sanctions bill tomorrow.

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