Bill to ramp up Iran sanctions fails in U.S. Senate (REUTERS) By Roberta Rampton and Rachelle Younglai WASHINGTON 03/27/12 9:09pm EDT)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - A U.S. Republican lawmaker on Tuesday blocked Democrats
from passing legislation designed to further punish Iran for
developing its nuclear program, and each side blamed the other for
its failure in a presidential election year that will put extra
scrutiny on President Barack Obama to be tough on Tehran.
The legislation, which had the backing of many Democratic and
Republican Senators, focused on foreign banks that handle
transactions for Iran´s national oil and tanker companies, and
included a host of measures aimed to close loopholes in existing
A handful of Republicans wanted to include additional measures to the
bill such as sanctions on companies that insure trade with Iran. But
Majority Leader Harry Reid wanted to take up the legislation without
"New changes to the bill at this time will only slow down its
passage," Reid, a Democrat, said before he sought unanimous consent
from Senators to approve the legislation - a procedure that allows no
Senator Rand Paul formally objected to taking up the legislation
unless the Senate would also consider his amendment to it saying that
nothing in the bill could be construed as an authorization of war
against Iran or Syria. This effectively blocked the bill from
The timing of the next step was not immediately clear.
The latest set of penalties signed into law by President Barack Obama
in December have made it increasingly difficult for Tehran to sell
its oil. They are aimed at slowing Iran´s nuclear program, which
Tehran has said is purely for civilian purposes. The United States
and some other Western countries say the program is for nuclear
The bill would have built on efforts by the United States and other
Western nations to implement oil and banking sanctions.
"These sanctions are a key tool as we work to stop (Iran) from
obtaining a nuclear weapon, threatening Israel and ultimately
jeopardizing U.S. national security," Reid said earlier on Tuesday.
The Senate Banking Committee easily passed the sanctions bill on
February 2 and the full House of Representatives passed its version
Since then, several lawmakers have floated additional proposals to
penalize underwriters that insure oil and gas trade with Iran; to
block foreign companies dealing with Iranian energy companies from
U.S. financial markets; and to ban foreign companies that buy Iranian
oil from buying oil from U.S. emergency reserves.
Before Paul blocked the bill, Reid said Democratic senators had
agreed to move forward without offering any amendments, which could
speed a vote. "I´m willing to move this bill without amendments at
any time," Reid said afterward.
Democrats were quick to blame Republicans for blocking the bill. "I
hope that the select few Republicans who reportedly blocked this
important bill will reconsider their opposition and allow it to move
forward as soon as possible," said Tim Johnson, the Democratic
chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.
A Republican congressional aide said it was "unfortunate" that
Reid "seeks to silence both Democrats and Republicans who want to
consider tougher sanctions against Iran."
Republicans were pushing to include at least one amendment from
Senator Mark Kirk, Jon Kyl, the second-ranking Republican in the
Senate, said before the bill was blocked.
Kirk, one of the architects behind the sanctions that became law in
December, has continued to work on Iran sanctions issues as he
recovers from a stroke. A number of his measures had won support from
"We remain hopeful that Senators can find a bipartisan way forward to
incorporate ideas from both sides of the aisle that would help
strengthen sanctions against Iran," a spokesman from Kirk´s office
Kyl told reporters that he did "feel some obligation to make sure
that Senator Kirk is satisfied before we go forward" with the
Senator Joe Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with Democrats,
said he wanted to see the sanctions advance but would like to see
some amendments allowed.
"I´d really prefer to have a bipartisan agreement with a limited
number of amendments on both sides," Lieberman told reporters before
the bill was blocked. (Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell;
editing by Mohammad Zargham) (© Thomson Reuters 2012. 03/27/12)
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