iran - Reuters - December 9 2011
Iranian supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rallying in Tehran last month. Photo by Reuters
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The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday endorsed legislation to expand sanctions against Iran.

The Iran Threat Reduction Act, passed by a vote of 410 to 11. The overwhelming votes were largely symbolic, however, as the Senate was not expected to act on the legislation in the few remaining days of the congressional session.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who authored the bill that has over 350 co-sponsors, said during the debate that "we don’t know how much time we have left," and that "if we fail, it will come as no consolation to the families of the victims of past and future Iranian attacks, or to our allies."

The bill, she explained, would authorize the administration to sanction the Central Bank of Iran if it is discovered that it has been used to facilitate the country's support of terrorist activities.

The bills focuses on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and senior Iranian regime officials Ros-Lehtinen said. It is also meant to close loopholes in energy and financial sanctions and to "counter the regime’s efforts to evade them, including by targeting the Central Bank of Iran."

Congressman Steve Rothman (D-NJ), a member of the House Appropriations Defense, and State and Foreign Operations Subcommittees, and cosponsor of the bill, said that it "sends a clear message to anyone who wishes to deal with Iran that doing business with that country is unacceptable until Iran gives up its aspirations to acquire nuclear weapons capabilities.”

“Iran must stop its reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons. By sanctioning the Central Bank of Iran and entities connected to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, this legislation is proposing the harshest steps against Iran to date," he said.

The act also included two pieces of legislation of Congressman Ted Deutch (FL-19). The Transparency and Accountability Act of 2011 imposes the burden of identifying sanctionable business on the companies themselves by mandating self-disclosure to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Meanwhile, the Iran Human Rights and Democracy Promotion Act of 2011 will impose sanctions on "companies that sell or service products that enable the Iranian regime to oppress its people and abuse human rights and while requiring the United States to develop a national strategy to promote Internet freedom in Iran."

"The recent International Atomic Energy Agency report only further confirmed that the Iranian regime is hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons that threaten our national security, pose an existential threat to our ally Israel, and risk sparking a devastating arms race in the already volatile Middle East," Rep. Deutch said in a statement.

"Iran has made its intentions crystal clear by plotting attacks on U.S. soil, funding Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations, supporting the slaughter of thousands by the oppressive Syrian regime, and continuing to threaten Israel's very existence. U.S. policy must be crystal clear that we will not accept a nuclear-armed Iran. It is my hope that the United States Senate swiftly acts on this legislation and joins the bipartisan effort in the House of Representatives to ensure that Iran never develops nuclear weapons," he said.

The Obama administration recently announced new sanctions against Iran, but fell short of including the Iranian Central Bank. Congressmen who opposed the bill said they are concerned that the sanctions will cause a rise in oil prices, and that the most effective tool to deal with the Iranian regime intransigence is diplomacy.

The House of Representatives on Wednesday also passed a $662 billion defense bill, which would authorize money for military personnel, weapons systems, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and national security programs in the Energy Department.