US Senate Extends Sanctions on Iran, Libya for Five Years
The US Senate on Wednesday extended sanctions against Iran and Libya for another five years, in an attempt to hinder foreign interests from significantly investing in the two countries' oil and gas sectors, said reports.
The Senate voted 96-2 to extend the 1996 Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA), acting against President George W. Bush's administration, which had pushed for only a two-year period renewal.
It does, however, include compromise language that calls on Congress to re-evaluate the sanctions regime within 18 months time.
Signed into law in August 1996 by then-president Bill Clinton, ILSA was intended to isolate Iran and Libya at a time when both were accused by Washington of sponsoring acts of terrorism.
The House of Representatives opted late Wednesday to postpone a vote on a similar bill until Thursday.
The measure must still be approved by President George W. Bush before it becomes law, said AFP.
The current US act "bans" foreign enterprises from investing more than $20 million in either Iran or Libya's energy sector, although French, Italian and Dutch companies already have defied the previous ceiling of $40 million in Libya, and $20 million in Iran.
The European Union on July 16 had warned of a souring of transatlantic relations if the United States renewed the law.
In a statement after a regular monthly meeting in Brussels, EU foreign ministers expressed "concern with the likely extension" of ILSA by the US Congress, said AFP.
Some US officials also believe a five-year extension would unnecessarily hinder the Bush administration from altering US policy toward Iran and Libya should Washington deem such changes warranted.
Following the Islamic revolution, the United States and Iran severed diplomatic relations in 1980 and Washington imposed an oil embargo on Tehran.
Sanctions against US companies doing business in Iran were authorized in 1995.
Washington maintains no diplomatic ties with Libya, a country it considers a backer of international terrorism. US sanctions against Libya were imposed in the aftermath of the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, which left 270 people dead.
Former president Bill Clinton last year lifted controls on some non-oil Iranian exports -- caviar, pistachio nuts and rugs -- in hopes of encouraging democratic shifts in Iran after reformers won in the February 2000 legislative elections.
But Tehran has rebuffed efforts to start a direct dialogue until all sanctions are lifted.
The Bush administration sought to limit the extension to two years to give it more flexibility in foreign policy. The White House budget office reiterated that preference Wednesday, saying, "sanctions should be reviewed frequently to assess their effectiveness and continued suitability."
But Sen. Paul Sarbanes said that given the record of Iran and Libya, failure to extend the sanctions for the full five years would be seen "as a sign of a lack of resolve by the United States," according to the Associated Press.
Under the measure, the president has numerous sanctions he can impose on offending foreign companies, including blocking them from exporting goods to the United States, selling to the US government or obtaining more than $10 million a year in US bank loans.
The existing law targets foreign companies that invest more than $40 million a year in Libya's energy production, said AP.
That would be reduced to a more stringent $20 million, the same as the limit on investment in Iran.
"Extending sanctions by an additional five years will ensure that Iran and Libya will not be able to bankroll their terrorist activities and weapons of mass destruction programs with oil profits," said Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., a co-sponsor of the House bill.
Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, endorsed continuing sanctions for Iran despite some promising signs there, AP added. "It's up to Iran and its people as to what course they're going to follow, whether they're going to be one of the responsible countries of the world or if they're going to support terrorism."
Many US allies with companies that do energy business oppose the sanctions, and no sanctions have been imposed on any company since the law took effect in 1996. Yet Sarbanes and Lantos contended the law had been effective, saying even the Iranians admit seeing a reduction of international oil investment.
A dispute over a House measure devised by the ways and means committee to address administration calls for a shorter term prompted GOP leaders to delay a vote scheduled last week.
That version would have enabled any House member, after the administration reported on the sanctions' effectiveness, to demand a quick House vote on revoking the sanctions, something that could have happened within months, it said – Albawaba.com
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