WASHINGTON (AP) - A new package of severe sanctions on Iran's energy, shipping and financial sectors gained strong congressional support Tuesday as lawmakers sought to ratchet up the economic pressure in hopes of halting Tehran's suspected nuclear weapons program.
House and Senate negotiators reached agreement late Monday on legislation that builds on the current penalties directed at financial institutions that do business with Iran's central bank. The new bill would impose sanctions on anyone who mines uranium with Iran; sells, leases or provides oil tankers to Tehran; or provides insurance to the National Iranian Tanker Co., the state-run shipping line.
Iranian officials quickly criticized the latest round of penalties, labeling the economic pressure "warfare" and promising to retool the country's oil-dependent economy.
In an election year, U.S. lawmakers were determined to punish Iran while sending a strong signal of support to Israel amid fears about the Iranian threat to the close Mideast ally. In a separate move, President Barack Obama used his executive authority to impose fresh sanctions on foreign banks in China and Iraq that the U.S. says helps Iran evade the penalties.
The move came as Obama's Republican rival, Mitt Romney, has argued that the president isn't tough on Iran.
The Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate said Tuesday they expect swift passage of the latest package of sanctions after a House vote tentatively scheduled for Wednesday.
The latest round of sanctions came as the White House announced separate penalties on banks in China and Iraq that the Obama administration says have helped Iran evade international sanctions.
The new penalties target China's Bank of Kunlun and Iraq's Elaf Islamic Bank. In a statement, Obama says the sanctions make clear that the U.S. will expose any financial institution that assists "the increasingly desperate Iranian regime" to access the international financial system.
Obama is also expanding sanctions on the purchase or acquisition of Iranian petrochemical products. The sanctions are authorized in part for those who provide support to the National Iranian Oil Company and the Central Bank of Iran.
The latest legislation would penalize anyone who works in Iran's petroleum, petrochemical or natural gas sector, or helps Tehran's oil and gas industry by providing goods, services, technology or infrastructure.
Any entity that insures or reinsures investments in Iran's oil sector would be penalized. So would anyone who helps Iran avoid sanctions through reflagging of vessels.
The bill would target the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and anyone who assists the paramilitary group, including foreign government agencies.
The bill also would deny visas and freeze assets on individuals and companies that supply Iran with technology that could be used against its citizens, such as tear gas, rubber bullets and surveillance equipment. The bill extends those sanctions on human rights violators to Syria, where President Bashar Assad's regime is accused of a bloody crackdown against protesters.
The bill requires companies that trade on the U.S. stock exchange to disclose any Iran-related business to the Securities and Exchange Commission.