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Iran is vulnerable to sanctions on refined petroleum imports, such as gasoline.
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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said that sanctions against Iran “reduce the chance that Iran will acquire the capacity to produce nuclear weapons.”
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The Republican whip, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), noted that the IRPSA vote was a rare moment of bipartisanship in the Capitol.

House Passes Major Iran Sanctions Bill

By an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 412-12, the House of Representatives on Dec. 15 passed the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA), which gives President Obama the authority to tell any company that sells, ships or insures refined petroleum to Iran that it cannot do business in the United States.

Iran is one of the largest oil exporters in the world, but because the theocratic regime in Tehran has grossly mismanaged the country's economy, Iran must import up to 40 percent of its refined petroleum, such as gasoline for cars. IRPSA targets this vulnerability by pressuring companies to stop their business in Iran’s energy sector.

Reps. Howard Berman (D-CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced the bill earlier this year. Before the legislation was brought to the floor of the House for a vote, it had 343 cosponsors—more than three-fourths of all members.

The measure is based on a legislation introduced in 2007 by Reps. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Andrews (D-NJ), co-chairs of the House Iran Working Group.

The resounding House vote came after Iran repeatedly spurned President Obama's diplomatic overtures, instead choosing to press ahead with its efforts to enrich uranium—a key step toward building an atomic bomb. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said that the administration's efforts to engage Iran had "produced very little."

Bipartisan Leadership Voices Support for Bill

On the day of the vote, leaders from both the Democratic and Republican Parties lined up on the House floor to speak out in favor of IRPSA. Most senior among them was Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

“Today, with this legislation, we give the president a new option, a new tool — the power to impose sanctions against companies that supply Iran with, or support its domestic production of, gasoline and other refined petroleum products,” Pelosi said. “By targeting Iran’s ongoing dependence on largely imported refined petroleum, we reduce the chance that Iran will acquire the capacity to produce nuclear weapons.”

The House majority leader, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MA), encouraged all members to vote to pass IRPSA. “We know that Tehran can choose at any point to negotiate in good faith, abandon its aggressive nuclear pursuit, and rejoin the community of nations,” Hoyer said. “We shouldn't hope for a change of heart from that regime, but we can hope for a change of behavior: a cold understanding that as long as Iran builds the capacity to catastrophically attack its neighbors, its economy will suffer deeply. These sanctions have the power to force that choice.”

The Republican whip, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), noted that the IRPSA vote was a rare moment of bipartisanship in the Capitol, with Democrats and Republicans in agreement that the United States needs to apply more pressure on the Iranian regime.

“As Iran takes a more belligerent approach to its nuclear program, the United States will not fall asleep at the wheel,” Cantor said. “We must lead. With the passage of this bill, we must, and will, rally the international community in order to stop the Middle East from moving irreversibly toward nuclearization.” BACK TO TOP

Berman, Ros-Lehtinen Pushed for IRPSA’s Passage

Reps. Berman and Ros-Lehtinen, the bill’s original cosponsors, each spoke at length about its merits. Berman addressed the argument, expressed by IRSPA’s few detractors in the House, that sanctions are going to hurt the Iranian people. He noted that the same point was made in the 1980s before sanctioning South Africa.

“We did not listen to that argument,” Berman said. “We enacted those new sanctions. Europe soon followed in banning new investment. The South African business community went to the regime in South Africa and pointed out the economic devastation they faced if they continued with their apartheid policies.”

Berman continued: “It is ludicrous to think that the people who are risking their lives and their liberty and their limbs and who are doing everything they can to express their opposition to this regime in Iran are going to turn into a unifying force behind that regime because the price of oil gets higher. We are working with them to weaken that regime and to stop this nuclear weapons program.”

Ros-Lehtinen emphasized the importance of encouraging other countries to stop selling refined petroleum to Iran. “In recent years, Iran has estimated to have imported gasoline directly or indirectly from at least 16 countries, including China, India, the Netherlands, France, and the UAE, as well as global oil companies such as Total and Shell,” she said. “To stop this trade, the sanctions we're considering today must also be adopted by our allies, who continue to talk about the need to act but hide behind the claim that the U.N. Security Council must act first.”

She summarized her point: “There is no shortage of measures available [to pressure Iran]. What is lacking is the will.” BACK TO TOP

Sanctions Legislation Awaits Senate Action

The Senate is also moving ahead with its Iran sanctions bill. On Oct. 29, by a vote of 23 to 0, the Senate Banking Committee passed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act (S. 2799), which includes provisions from IRPSA (H.R. 2194).

The Senate bill was introduced by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL).

The legislation awaits a vote by the full Senate. BACK TO TOP