A group of U.S. lawmakers is proposing to intensify the economic pressure on Iran over its disputed nuclear program by drafting the harshest penalties to date on a nation whose income from oil exports has been cut in half by sanctions since 2011.
A draft Senate bill, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News from a congressional office, would penalize foreign countries that do business with any Iranian entity controlled by the government. It also would bar Iran from using earnings from oil exports to purchase anything other than food and medicine.
The draft measure, which is expected to be finalized and introduced this month, also would require the Islamic Republic to release political prisoners, respect the rights of women and minorities and move toward "a free and democratically elected government" before Iranian government-controlled entities could be removed from the U.S. sanctions list.
"Congress is running out of patience," Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, who's advised lawmakers and the administration on Iran sanctions, said in a telephone interview yesterday. "New measures under consideration will massively intensify the economic pressure on Iran and move the sanctions regime closer to a de facto commercial and financial embargo on Iran."
The draft Senate legislation, which would have to pass both houses of Congress and be signed by President Barack Obama, would target Iran's foreign exchange holdings by cutting off its access to hard currencies, including the euro, and restricting its use of money exchange houses.