Congress moves to approve additional Iran sanctions

House and Senate negotiators reached agreement Monday on legislation that would impose additional U.S. sanctions against Iran in hopes the economic pressure persuades Tehran to curb its nuclear ambitions.

The new penalties would come on top of a fourth round of United Nations Security Council sanctions, and would also be in addition to new sanctions by the Obama administration and the European Union.

The legislation gives Congress a new role in the sanctions effort that until now has been largely kept up by the Treasury Department. It would provide money for enforcement, and new rules intended to give added force to the Treasury’s efforts.

The legislation would impose sanctions on foreign companies that sell refined petroleum to Iran, banks that finance the Revolutionary Guard, and businesses that provide equipment or services for Iran’s energy sector. Refined petroleum includes products such as gasoline and fuel oil.

The agreement was announced Monday by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), House Foreign Relations Committee chairman, and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), Senate Banking Committee chairman. It is based on similar bills passed by the House and Senate. It still requires approval by other members of a House-Senate conference committee and by the two chambers.

The House and Senate bills passed easily, and congressional aides predicted the latest measure also will have strong support. Administration officials had no immediate comment.

The Obama administration failed to persuade the negotiators to provide a blanket exemption for foreign companies from countries that are cooperating with the U.S. efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program. If adopted, as expected, the legislation probably will bring protests from some European and Asian countries.

The administration would retain the authority to waive sanctions imposed by the law. Nonetheless, targets of the sanctions still will be “named and shamed” for doing business with Iran, even if they are not otherwise penalized, analysts said.

Berman and Dodd said in a statement that “if applied forcefully by the president, this act will bring strong new pressure to bear on Tehran in order to combat its proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, support for international terrorism and gross human rights abuses.”

It remains unclear how much damage will be done by the refined-petroleum sanctions. Some analysts argue that Iran has been preparing to buy more fuel off the black market, and that the measures will strengthen the Revolutionary Guard, which has a major role in such sales.

U.S. officials and their allies believe Iran is seeking nuclear weapons know-how, while Iran insists its nuclear ambitions are for peaceful civilian purposes.

In the midst of the international standoff, Iran on Monday barred two international nuclear inspectors from further examining its facilities, accusing them of manipulating data and leaking information to the news media.

Ali Akbar Salehi, chief of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, told state radio that the Iranian government had formally objected to the two inspectors over a “false report” they provided to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“We asked the IAEA not to send these two inspectors to Iran any longer,” he said. “The duo is no longer authorized to enter Iran because of their unrealistic report and divulging the report before its official confirmation.”

Iran did not identify the inspectors or give details of what they allegedly did. But most analysts believe the move is linked to a section in the most recent IAEA report that refers to equipment related to possible pyroprocessing experiments, which could be used to perfect the extraction of plutonium from uranium metal.

The report says equipment discovered during a January inspection had inexplicably gone missing during a later visit.

Iranian officials had earlier singled out that section of the May 31 report, denouncing it as a mistake and demanding the agency retract it. Instead the IAEA reaffirmed the report and stood by the two inspectors in an announcement Monday.

“The IAEA has full confidence in the professionalism and impartiality of the inspectors concerned,” the statement says. “The agency confirms that its report on the implementation of safeguards in Iran … is fully accurate.”

Iran’s agreement with the agency allows it to expel individual inspectors at any time, as long as it submits to snap inspections, which take place about every other week and involve teams of two to four inspectors who stay for as long as four days. Salehi said inspectors are allowed to make twice-monthly unannounced visits to Iran’s uranium enrichment facility near the town of Natanz.

Diplomats close to the agency say Iranian authorities tend to be suspicious of inspectors from Western countries and more welcoming of those from the developing world.

Times staff writer Borzou Daragahi and special correspondents Julia Damianova in Vienna and Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran contributed to this report.