WASHINGTON // US legislators are expected to move forward with unilateral sanctions targeting Iran's energy sector that mete out harsh penalties for companies doing business with the Islamic republic. Separate sanctions bills have passed the House and Senate and are currently being reconciled in a conference committee. Sponsors of the bills said Congress was waiting for the UN Security Council, which passed a fourth round of sanctions on Wednesday, to act first. They expect the final bill to come up for a vote this month, after European Union leaders meet to consider additional sanctions of their own.
Howard Berman, a Democratic congressman from California and the lead sponsor of the House bill, said the time has come for unilateral sanctions. "We now look to the European Union and other key nations that share our deep concern about Iran's nuclear intentions to build on the Security Council resolution by imposing tougher national measures that will deepen Iran's isolation and, hopefully, bring the Iranian leadership to its senses," said Mr Berman, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "The US Congress will do its part by passing sanctions legislation later this month.
European Union foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg next week are expected to discuss possible measures ahead of an EU summit on June 17 in Brussels. William Hague, the British foreign minister, yesterday said the 27-nation bloc should be prepared "to use its weight in the world". Leading EU members Britain, France and Germany generally agree on the need to impose additional sanctions, though other members such as Spain, Malta and Cyprus have been more hesitant. It is unclear what form EU sanctions might take. Germany, for example, is likely to resist serious restrictions on its burgeoning export of oil and gas technology to the Islamic republic. Emanuele Ottolenghi, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said he ultimately expects the EU to agree on sanctions that build on the foundation provided by the UN resolution, but only after "fierce debate".
"The EU will take the UN resolution and whatever it can expand it will," he said. The sanctions under consideration by Congress would go much further than the UN resolution, which imposes no restrictions on the oil trade at the heart of Iran's economy and falls short of the crippling sanctions the United States once envisioned. Among other things, the unilateral sanctions would essentially cut US ties to companies that supply Iran with petrol or technology to increase its domestic refining capacity. If the sanctions bill becomes law, Mr Obama would be required to sanction such companies or else seek a waiver from Congress not to do so.
The administration, for its part, has sought to soften language in the legislation to allow exemptions for companies based in "co-operating countries", or those that are co-operating with overall efforts to apply economic pressure to Iran. The language is generally thought to refer to China and Russia, both of which voted in favour of UN sanctions after months of intense diplomacy. Some US business groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce, also have expressed concern about the impact the legislation will have on international trade.
Meanwhile, the White House is moving ahead with its dual-track approach to Iran, which couples tighter sanctions with diplomatic engagement. Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, noted that the UN resolution offers Iran a "clear path toward the immediate suspension of these sanctions" and reaffirmed the US commitment "to engage in principled diplomacy". Mr Obama likewise said the sanctions "do not close the door on diplomacy".
"Iran continues to have the opportunity to take a different and better path," he said. @Email:email@example.com