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Iran sanctions bill grants Obama waiver, not exemption

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — A new Iran sanctions bill in the U.S. Congress allows the president to waive penalties on countries cooperating with U.N. sanctions but denies the blanket exemption sought by the White House.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and co-chairman of the House-Senate conference committee that framed the new legislation posed to pass Congress in the next few days, said the White House had sought leeway to wholly exempt countries from the sanctions.

"They sought an exemption for any entity in any country that could be deemed cooperative," Berman said Wednesday in a conference call with Jewish media.

Instead, the president may waive sanctions on companies for 12 months on a case-by-case basis as long as he certifies to Congress that the country where the company is based is cooperating with U.S.-led multilateral efforts to isolate Iran.

It’s not clear if the waiver will satisfy the White House, which had sought an exemption to reward countries, such as China and Russia, that had facilitated the passage earlier this month of U.N. sanctions. White House spokesmen referred only to earlier statements that suggested the Obama administration still hoped to tweak the bill.

The congressional sanctions, which Berman said he hopes to pass in the next week and then send to President Obama for his signature, are much tougher than the sanctions adopted by the United Nations. The U.N. measures are confined to specified targets such as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is believed to control Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

The congressional proposal expands existing U.S. sanctions to include entities that trade with Iran’s energy sector; U.S. sanctions passed in 1996 targeted investment only. The new sanctions also hit Iran’s banking sector, codifying into law sanctions that a number of presidents already had implemented through executive order.

Additionally, the new sanctions would require the president to investigate and report to Congress any entity suspected of such activity; the earlier bill only recommended such investigations.

The new bill also includes sanctions targeting Iranian violators of human rights.

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