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The House of Representatives today approved a bill that permits state and local governments to divest any public funds from companies that do more than $20 million a year in business with Iran’s energy sector. The bill, known as the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of 2009, passed by a vote of 414 – 6.
Supporters of the bill, introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), believe that divestment and sanctions in general will help pressure Iran’s government over its nuclear program. Frank said the bill makes it “very clear” that Americans are concerned about Iran’s nuclear program, and the bill permits them to address their concerns.
One of the dissenting votes was cast by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) who said, “I don’t think the sanctions are going to help with the talks. I don’t think sanctions are going to assist us in our efforts to try to bring Iran into a new position in the world community.”

Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) disagreed, saying “The Iranian government will be more responsive if the United States can isolate the regime and apply some distinct pressure.”
During Congressional testimony about the bill, NIAC President Trita Parsi warned that sanctions are likely to hurt the Iranian people rather than the Iranian government. Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg told the Senate Banking Committee last week that the Obama administration does not want that to happen. “I do think we always have to worry about the humanitarian impact and the political impact [of proposed sanctions] because we want to take advantage of the dynamic there and not to undercut the opposition, not to hurt those who are being courageous,” Steinberg said.
The debate in the United States has reached Iran, with opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi coming out against sanctions. In a written statement, Mousavi said further sanctions “will impose agonies on a nation [that] suffers enough from miserable statesmen.”
The bill must still be passed by the Senate before it can go to the President’s desk. The House passed a similar divestment bill in 2007, but it never came to a vote in the Senate.

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