US Senate votes for tough sanctions against Iran

Washington: The US Senate has unanimously approved harsh new economic sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme, targeting the country`s central bank.

The measures, passed by 100 votes to nil, would ban foreign firms from doing business with the Iranian central bank. Under the new sanctions, foreign banks that do business with Iran`s central bank would be cut off from the US financial system.

The Senate`s move came a day after the US Government said it is looking for new ways to impose fresh sanctions against Iran.

It also comes in the immediate aftermath of the attack on the British Embassy in Tehran following which Britain has recalled all its diplomats from Iran and has asked all Iranian diplomats from London to leave the country.

The US has been cautious about harsher sanctions, fearing such a move could disrupt the oil markets at a time of economic uncertainty for many Americans, and alienate potential allies.

But, Senators said that the sanctions were necessary to contain Iran`s nuclear ambition.
"Iran`s nuclear ambitions threaten the national security of the United States and its allies," said Senator Robert Menendez, in a statement.

The US and its Western allies have supported multiple rounds of sanctions on Iran, seeking to persuade it to curtail its nuclear work. Washington suspects Tehran of using its civilian nuclear programme to develop an atomic bomb, although Iran says its program is solely to produce electricity.

In the case of foreign central banks, the legislation would only apply to transactions for the sale or purchase of petroleum products and only after determining that the country with jurisdiction over the institution 1) has sufficient alternative petroleum supplies and 2) where the country has not taken steps to significantly reduce its purchases of Iranian petroleum or petroleum products.

The amendment also exempts from sanctions transactions for food, medicine and medical devices. The amendment seeks to deny Iran the resources for its nuclear weapons programme.

Applauding the passage of this bipartisan legislation, Senator Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, said Iran`s actions are unacceptable and pose a danger to the US and the entire world.

"Iran supports terrorist groups, arms the killers of American soldiers, lies about its nuclear program, violates its citizens` basic rights, and threatens Israel`s security. We will take every step necessary to protect Nevadans and all Americans from any threats to our safety," he said.

"The Central Bank of Iran is complicit in Iran`s nuclear venture, financing the Iranian effort to acquire the knowledge, materials and facilities to enrich uranium and to ultimately develop weapons of mass destruction; assisting the Iranian government in the evasion of multilateral sanctions; and engaging in deceptive financial practices and illicit transactions," said Menendez, who was instrumental behind moving this key legislation.

Asserting that the US cannot accept an Iran with nuclear weapons, Senator Mark Kirk said as the world`s leading state sponsor of terrorism, it`s quite likely that the Iranian regime would transfer nuclear weapons to terrorist organisations like Hezbollah and Hamas.

"We can be sure that an Iranian bomb would set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East from Saudi Arabia to Egypt. The Central Bank of Iran is the primary bankroller of Iran`s global terror network, its nuclear programme and other illicit activities. The time has come to impose crippling sanctions on this terrorist and nuclear-financing institution," he said.

"There is proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon, and we must cut off those nuclear ambitions at the source by sanctioning the Central Bank of Iran," said Senator Charles Schumer.

"Iran could be on the cusp of having at least one workable nuclear weapon within a year and another deadly bomb six months after that. The extreme and dangerous government of Ahmadinejad must be held accountable," he said.

In another statement, Senator Ben Cardin asked President Barack Obama to support strong sanctions against those who do business with Iran. "While I appreciate the efforts of the Obama Administration in implementing existing sanctions and working to gather more international support for sanctions against we`ve seen that many in the international community will move slowly or not act without the US," he said.