May 16, 2011 / 11:34 PM / in 7 years

U.S. lawmakers seek to strengthen Iran sanctions

WASHINGTON, May 16 (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers said on Monday they were seeking to stiffen sanctions on Iran to pressure it to give up its nuclear program and stop alleged abuses of human rights.

U.S. Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Howard Berman, the top Republican and Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ foreign affairs committee, have introduced new sanctions legislation.

The two lawmakers and others in Congress worry that Iran is circumventing sanctions approved by Congress last year as part of an international effort to press Iran into talks over its nuclear development.

Iran says its uranium enrichment program is for peaceful energy needs, but Western governments suspect it is aimed at making an atomic weapon.

The U.S. sanctions approved last year targeted Iran’s energy and banking sectors, threatening to penalize foreign companies that did business with Tehran.

Only two companies have been sanctioned: Belarusneft, from Belarus, and Naftiran Intertrade Co, a Swiss-based subsidiary of the National Iranian Oil Company.

The new legislation would seek to close loopholes in existing law by, among other things, making it harder for the U.S. president to waive sanctions, Ros-Lehtinen’s office said.

“U.S. policy toward Iran has offered a lot of bark but not enough bite,” Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, said in the statement.

The bill would also impose additional sanctions on companies that did energy business with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is increasingly involved in all sectors of Iran’s economy, Berman’s office said.

And it would target alleged human rights abusers in Iran by freezing their assets in the United States, denying them entry to the United States, and forbidding them to conduct business dealings with the United States, Berman’s office said.

The United Nations said in March that Iran has increased executions and abuse of human rights and opposition activists.

“As we await vigorous enforcement by the Obama administration ... we must continually look ahead and examine additional means to pressure Iran,” Berman, a Democrat, said.

The Obama administration says it is enforcing existing sanctions law but has also emphasized that some companies have abandoned Iranian links voluntarily to avoid U.S. sanctions.

Last September, the State Department said four international energy companies -- Total (TOTF.PA), Statoil (STL.OL), ENI (ENI.MI) and Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) had agreed to curtail their energy dealings with Iran. (Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Paul Simao)

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