By Ben Geman - 12/12/09 10:52 PM EST
The House is slated to vote next week on bipartisan Iran sanctions
legislation that targets companies supplying Iran with gasoline or
helping the country expand its refining system.
Iran is a major oil producer, but imports up to 40 percent of its gasoline because it lacks adequate refining capacity.
The bill, sponsored by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.), has 343 co-sponsors.
It would allow sanctions against companies that ship gasoline and other refined products to Iran, and also targets related services such as insurance and financing.
A bipartisan Iran sanctions package that the Senate Banking Committee unanimously approved in late October also targets the country’s refined petroleum imports.
However, the plans retain White House waiver authority that already applies to other energy sanctions under the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996.
The Obama administration on Friday signaled plans to seek new international sanctions against Iran over its uranium enrichment program if diplomatic efforts do not bear fruit soon. Iranian officials say the enrichment is for peaceful nuclear energy purposes, but the U.S. and several key allies believe Iran hopes to develop nuclear weapons.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking in Iraq Friday, warned that world powers would soon impose “significant additional sanctions” on the country, while Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also warned that patience is wearing thin.
“I think the international community really still wants to engage with Iran, but people are going to now turn to other routes like more pressure, like sanctions to try to change their mind and their behavior,” she said in an interview with Al-Jazeera TV.
But administration officials in recent months have been noncommittal about the idea of gasoline sanctions specifically.
The White House has emphasized that it prefers multilateral action. Targeting Iran’s refined product imports would likely face resistance from Russia and China, given their economic ties to Iran.
Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told the Senate Banking Committee in October that “we still have not reached a firm judgment” about targeting Iran’s gasoline imports, and noted that it would be difficult without international backing.
The House bill will be brought up under suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds vote of members present and no amendments are allowed.
A spokeswoman for Berman on Saturday declined to provide comment in advance of the floor consideration, but pointed to Berman’s prior statements on the legislation.
“By reporting out the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, this Committee will take the first key step to ensure that President Obama is empowered with the full range of tools he needs to address the looming nuclear threat from Iran, even as he pursues diplomacy and, if necessary, the multilateral sanctions track,” Berman said in his prepared remarks at a late October committee markup of the bill.