Committee votes longer sanctions on Iran, Libya

WASHINGTON, June 20 (JTA) — The House of Representatives is poised to extend sanctions against Iran and Libya for five more years, after a congressional committee rejected an amendment by the Bush administration that would have shortened the renewal to two years.

The amendment to cut three years off the Iran Libya Sanctions Act was overwhelmingly defeated Wednesday by the House International Relations Committee, 34-9, which passed the full act by a 41-3 vote.

The bill — commonly known as ILSA — was first passed in 1996 and calls for sanctions against foreign companies investing in Iran’s energy sector, as a deterrent for them to trade with the two nations.

The measure appears to be effective: In its five years as law, only seven of the more than 50 international deals proposed by Iran have gone through.

The five-year extension of the law, which expires in August, has strong support in both houses of Congress, with more than 245 co-sponsors in the House and 74 in the Senate. It is unclear when the full House or the Senate will vote on the measure.

The Bush administration had sought a two-year extension of ILSA, maintaining the shorter time frame would provide more leverage in dealing with the Iranian government, including the recently re-elected President Mohammad Khatami.

“Five years represents a very closed-minded approach,” said Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who introduced the amendment.

Paul said the shorter version “would be a very modest approach to send a message that we are willing to talk with these countries.”

But the bill’s advocates say that despite Khatami’s moderate leanings, they are still concerned about Iran’s support of Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.

“These are governments training people who are criminals to go out into the world to do mass destruction,” said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) The State Department earlier this month said Iran is “the most active state sponsor of terrorism.”

Iran is targeted because the country also actively opposes the Middle East peace process and is seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Libya’s inclusion is based on its refusal to acknowledge responsibility for the deadly bombing of a Pan Am flight 103 in 1988.

Sanctions are limited to foreign companies because an executive order prohibits American companies from doing business with either country.

The sanctions for foreign companies include withholding export licenses, preventing loans from U.S. banks and ceasing government procurement of goods and services. The legislation has been strongly touted by Israel and its American allies, who fear potential threats from Iranian weapons of mass destruction.

The bill includes a presidential waiver, which would allow President Bush to do away with the sanctions for any particular contract. President Clinton used that waiver on several occasions.

But the bill’s advocates say it is still effective because the legislation prevented many more deals from getting that far.

Also included in the bill is a measure that would end the sanctions if Iran halts the development of weapons of mass destruction and if Libya takes credit for its role in the Pan Am plane crash over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people.

Two other amendments to the bill passed the committee last week.

One called for the amount of investment sparking sanctions in the two countries to be lowered to $20 million. The other amendment closed a loophole allowing companies to extend current contracts with the two countries without sanctions.

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