US Congress passes new sanctions against Iran
Washington: The US Congress has passed additional sanctions seeking to further stifle Iran's oil exports, just a day after President Barack Obama announced new measures to pressure the Islamic republic over its controversial nuclear program.
The House of Representatives Wednesday voted 421-6 for the new penalties, while the Senate passed them unanimously later. The legislation will land on Obama's desk for his signature, reported Xinhua.
House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said the new sanctions, the toughest ever imposed on Iran, seek to "tighten the chokehold on the regime beyond anything that has been done before".
She told the house that the measures will ultimately deprive Iran of "hard currency and funds needed to sustain its nuclear program". Oil export is the lifeline of the republic's economy.
The new measures, among others, target any individual or entity that works with Iran's petroleum or natural gas sector, engages in mining of uranium with the country, sells oil tankers to Tehran, or provides insurance to the National Iranian Tanker Co.
The move builds on an act signed by Obama late last year that targets financial institutions of foreign countries that purchase Iranian oil.
In his latest efforts to rev up pressure on Iran, which the West suspects is seeking to build nuclear weapons under the cover of its nuclear program, Obama Tuesday announced additional sanctions against the country's energy and petrochemical sectors.
He also said sanctions were imposed on Bank of Kunlun in China and Elaf Islamic Bank in Iraq, alleging that they "have facilitated transactions worth millions of dollars on behalf of Iranian banks that are subject to sanctions for their links to Iran's illicit proliferation activities".
The move sparked strong protest from China, which Wednesday urged the US to cancel its sanctions on Bank of Kunlun and stop damaging ties between the two nations.
"The US side imposing sanctions, in accordance with its domestic law, on a Chinese financial institution has severely violated the principles of international relations and impaired the interests of the Chinese side," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, voicing "strong dissatisfaction" and "resolute opposition" to the US move.
Iran has insisted on the peaceful nature of its nuclear program, and held three rounds of talks with the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany over its uranium enrichment program since mid-April.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has threatened pre-emptive strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities, said Sunday in Jerusalem that the sanctions had not set back Iran's nuclear program "one iota".
Netanyahu made the comment in his meeting with Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate set to face Obama in the November election.
The Obama administration has adopted a sanctions-plus-diplomacy approach to Iran's nuclear problem, and called for time for it to work out.