House Backs New U.S. Penalties Against Iran

Iranian students form a human chain close to the nation's Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility in November. The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday approved legislation that would further penalize Iran over its suspected nuclear-weapon activities.
Iranian students form a human chain close to the nation's Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility in November. The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday approved legislation that would further penalize Iran over its suspected nuclear-weapon activities.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday approved defense legislation that would penalize foreign financial entities that do business with the Central Bank of Iran (see GSN, Dec. 14).

Lawmakers voted 283-136 in favor of the $662 billion defense authorization bill, the Washington Post reported. The Senate was expected to consider the measure on Thursday (Felicia Sonmez, Washington Post, Dec. 14).

If enacted, the law "will put real additional pressure on the Iranians so they are going to pay a bigger and bigger price, if they continue to move towards nuclear weapons," CNN quoted Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) as saying (CNN, Dec. 15).

A conference committee of House and Senate lawmakers produced a single compromise version of the separate bills approved by chambers.

The conference report "reflects the widely held bipartisan proposition that those who would do business with Iran, including for the purchase of petroleum through its central bank, have to choose which they prefer: access to the $14 trillion economy of the United States or access to Iran’s $250 billion economy," according to a release from the House Armed Services Committee. "The conferees included a Senate-passed amendment to require the president to sanction entities, including state central banks, engaging in financial transactions with the Central Bank of Iran" (U.S. House Armed Services Committee release, Dec. 12).

The conference committee also relaxed House proposals that would have restricted the administration's decision-making on the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal (see GSN, Dec. 14). 

The House on Wednesday also found near-unanimous support for two bills that would further sanction Iran over its nuclear program, Agence France-Presse reported.

Lawmakers voted 410-11 and 418-2 for the measures.

One bill would penalize firms or national governments that maintain financial stakes in Iran's energy operations, provide gasoline to the Middle Eastern state, or support any Iranian biological, chemical, nuclear or sophisticated conventional arms activities. The other would sanction entities that support WMD and missile programs in Iran, North Korea and Syria (Agence France-Presse I, Dec. 14).

"Our fundamental strategic objective must be to stop Iran before it obtains nuclear weapons capabilities and to compel it to permanently dismantle its pursuit of such weapons," the Associated Press quoted House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) as saying.
 
There appeared to be little chance the Senate would take up the bills before this year's congressional session ends ahead of the holiday break, AP reported (Donna Cassata, Associated Press I/Fox News, Dec. 14).
 
The U.S. measures would add to a host of sanctions that already include four U.N. Security Council resolutions and penalties imposed by various national governments. The United States and partner nations suspect Iran's atomic operations are aimed at producing a nuclear-weapon capability, while Tehran says they are restricted to energy and research programs.
 
The European Union is reportedly set next month to consider oil sanctions on Iran. The West is said to hope that Saudi Arabia would increase its oil output to curb any cost hikes connected to a potential embargo on Iranian oil.
 
Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Ghasemi said on Wednesday that his Saudi opposite, Ali Naimi, had assured that Riyadh would not provide a mass increase in oil production, AP reported. Naimi said only that the matter is "speculative" (George Jahn, Associated Press II/NPR, Dec. 14).
 
There are also worries in Washington regarding reports that Iran is preparing to begin uranium enrichment operations at its Qum facility, Bloomberg reported. It could be a matter of weeks before the site is enriching uranium to 20 percent, said issue experts with contacts at the U.S. and international levels.
 
Observers have expressed concern that Iran's ongoing effort to enrich uranium to 20 percent, which Tehran says is necessary to power a medical research reactor, could be a step toward producing weapon-grade nuclear material, which requires an enrichment level of about 90 percent.
 
The situation could increase demands for the use of armed force, secret operations or further oil sanctions against Iran, according to anonymous Obama administration officials.
 
“Senior advisers to President Obama privately express concern that Israel might see Iran’s commencement of the Fordo facility” as cause for an attack, said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
 
The Qum site was built within a mountain, making it resistant to an airstrike.
 
Iran presently has one operational enrichment site, at Natanz. The most worrying development to Israel is Tehran's plans for a threefold boost in enrichment through centrifuges that are being tried out at the Natanz plant for use at Qum, according to David Albright, head of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security.
 
"The program has gone slower than expected -- they’re having trouble building and operating the centrifuges, which could be the result of Stuxnet or other sabotage,” Albright said in reference to the malware that hit Iranian atomic plants in 2010.
 
He said Iran would need until late 2013 to produce sufficient 20 percent-enriched uranium for further processing for one nuclear weapon.
 
“Where Israel would get more nervous is if Iran started to install hundreds of advanced centrifuges underground,” which could give the nation a “breakout capability over about six months,” Albright said of the capacity to produce weapon-ready nuclear material (Indira Lakshmanan, Bloomberg, Dec. 15).
 
Iran on Thursday said the first 20 percent-enriched fuel plates would be delivered to the Tehran reactor by the middle of February, AFP reported.
 
"Within the next two months the first fuel plate which is produced with the 20 percent enriched uranium will be placed in Tehran's research reactor," Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in an Islamic Republic News Agency report (Agence France-Presse II/Yahoo!News, Dec. 15).
 
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was expected in Washington this week for talks focusing on Iran with President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and additional top-level administration officials, the Xinhua News Agency reported (Xinhua News Agency I, Dec. 14).
 
Meanwhile, an Iranian lawmaker said the government is building an additional nuclear facility at Isfahan, site of Iran's uranium processing facility, Press TV reported.
 
The new plant is expected to be completed three years from now and would support Iran's medical and agricultural activities, according to Avaz Heidarpour (Press TV, Dec. 15).
 
The Iranian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday said the government has no intention to close the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial waterway in the transport of oil, Xinhua reported. Recent news reports have indicated the Iranian military is planning an exercise on shutting off access to the strait.
 
"As Iran has announced it several times, the issue of closing the Strait of Hormuz is not on Iran's agenda since Iran believes in upholding the stability and peace of the region," according to ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast (Xinhua News Agency II, Dec. 14).
 
December 15, 2011
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The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday approved defense legislation that would penalize foreign financial entities that do business with the Central Bank of Iran.

 

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