A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation Wednesday that would sharply toughen U.S. economic sanctions on Iran despite administration calls for Congress to delay penalties that could disrupt diplomacy aimed at resolving the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.
Advocates say the Senate proposal could, at least in theory, block Iran from accessing about one-third of the foreign exchange reserves it relies on to pay for government programs, to finance trade and to prop up its currency.
The lawmakers aim to combine the Senate measure with legislation pending in the House that would move the United States toward a full trade embargo against Iran in an effort to force it to comply with Western demands.
But Kupchan said the proposal is likely to win broad congressional support. He noted that the White House has failed to halt most lawmakers' sanctions bills, though it sometimes has watered them down.
Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a pro-sanctions advocacy group, said the new legislation was "a strike at the regime's economic lifeblood because it's going at their bank accounts."
Previous sanctions have cut Iran's oil exports in half, yet the country still sold $60 billion worth of oil last year, its fourth biggest sales year on record, Dubowitz noted. He said the country's total foreign exchange reserves are estimated at $60 billion to $100 billion.