Last Updated: Tue May 22, 2012 11:22 am (KSA) 08:22 am (GMT)

U.S. approves new sanctions against Iran ahead of Baghdad talks

The United States believes Iran’s nuclear program is not for civilian purposes as the Islamic republic claims. (File photo)
The United States believes Iran’s nuclear program is not for civilian purposes as the Islamic republic claims. (File photo)

The U.S. Senate on Monday approved new sanctions against Iran aimed at convincing the Islamic Republic to suspend its uranium enrichment, which western powers say is a cover for developing nuclear weapons.

The measure was approved unanimously ahead of talks Wednesday in Baghdad between Iran and representatives of the world’s main powers.

What the bill includes?

The bill also allows President Barack Obama to impose sanctions on any country or company that enters joint ventures with Iran to develop its oil or uranium resource, or provides technology or resources to help Iran with such development.

The legislation targets Iran’s national oil and tanker firms, its elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and would for the first time widen sanctions on Iran’s energy sector to any joint venture anywhere in the world where Iran's government is a substantial partner or investor.

The bill calls for a travel ban and freezing of U.S. assets of individuals and firms that provide Tehran with technology ̶ everything from rubber bullets to surveillance equipment ̶ used to repress dissent.

It would require firms competing for U.S. government contracts to certify that they and their subsidiaries have not had “significant economic transactions” with the Revolutionary Guards or individuals or entities connected to it.

The bill also includes language introduced by Senator Rand Paul stating that the measure does not authorize the use of military force.

It also includes measures against anyone who provides goods that “materially contribute to Iran’s proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program or its terrorism-related activities.”

What U.S. politicians say?

The U.S. is skeptical of Iran’s intentions but the Islamic republic insists its nuclear program is purely for civilian purposes.

“Both the White House and Congress are committed to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability,” said Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, the bill’s chief architect.

Iran can either “come to Baghdad with a real plan” to end its nuclear program “or we’ll make our own plan ̶ through sanctions or other necessary measures ̶ to ensure that Iran fails to achieve its nuclear ambitions.”

“The Senate has worked hard to improve our sanctions toward Iran,” added Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, “and this effort, combined with the sanctions of the European Union, should strengthen the hand of our own negotiators.”

The House of Representatives passed its version of the bill in December and now the Senate and House must work out their differences in the legislation.

“Today the U.S. Senate put Iranian leaders on notice that they must halt all uranium enrichment activities or face another round of economic sanctions from the United States,” said Republican Senator Mark Kirk, a co-author of the bill, in a statement.

What analysts say?

The cumulative impact of U.S. sanctions will be severe, said Suzanne Maloney, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

“Right now, both sides are playing a game of chicken - the Iranians want to see how much they can get and how little they can give, whereas Washington and its allies are counting on the looming threat of impending sanctions to elicit more concessions on the part of Tehran,” Maloney said.

But a former CIA analyst for the Near East and Persian Gulf region said the sanctions could be counterproductive ahead of the Baghdad talks on Iran’s nuclear program by making Tehran think that the West is less interested in a deal than in undermining the regime.

“The biggest requirement now for getting an agreement is not to pile on still more sanctions, but instead to persuade the Iranians that if they make concessions the sanctions will be eased,” said Paul Pillar, now a security studies professor at Georgetown University.

The Senate bill was brought up on Thursday but was blocked by Republicans who wanted some parts toughened up. Senator John McCain said the revised bill shows “we need a comprehensive policy” to include economic sanctions, diplomacy, military planning capabilities and options.

The bill also includes language from Senator Rand Paul that it does not authorize force against Iran, a Paul spokeswoman said.

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