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Senate passes Iran sanctions bill without debate
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate, with no debate Saturday, passed and sent to the president legislation that would impose mandatory sanctions on entities that provide goods or services for Iran's weapons programs.
The Senate action came two days after the House approved the measure following a debate over the wisdom of toughening unilateral sanctions on Tehran at the same time the United States was trying to work with its U.N. partners on a multinational approach to Iran's nuclear threat.
Both chambers approved the measure, which sanctions any entity that contributes to Iran's ability to acquire chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, by voice vote.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., in a statement, said the action "strengthened one of our most important tools in the fight to keep nuclear weapons out of the mullahs' hands."
He said it would encourage the administration to use all available leverage over Russia, a partner in Iranian energy projects, to gain Russian support for multilateral sanctions against Iran.
But in the House Thursday, Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, said that "unilateral sanctions don't work and there is no evidence that the other principle parties that are dealing with Iran will follow this example."
The legislation gives the president waiver authority over the sanctions, but only when he demonstrates that it is in the vital national interest.
"It would be a critical mistake to allow a regime with a track record as bloody and as dangerous as Iran to obtain nuclear weapons," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., sponsor of the measure. "Enough with the carrots. It's time for the stick."
The measure codifies existing economic sanctions against the Tehran government that have been in effect since the takeover of the U.S. embassy in 1979 and states that the president must notify Congress 15 days before terminating any of those sanctions.
It also approves assistance for human rights, pro-democracy and independent organizations and states that it is the sense of Congress that the United States should not enter into agreements with governments that are assisting Iran's nuclear program or transferring weapons or missiles to Iran.
The House passed a similar Iran sanctions bill last April, but that measure met opposition from the administration, which said it reduced the flexibility it needed to reach a diplomatic solution to Iran's uranium enrichment program and the threat that it was developing nuclear weapons. That proposal was defeated in the Senate.
The revised version takes out one section that would have cut off aid to countries, such as Russia, investing in projects in Iran that could be linked to weapons proliferation. The legislation also in effect alters the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act of 10 years ago by taking away restrictions on Libya, which is now cooperating with the West in eliminating weapons of mass destruction.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday again rejected demands that Tehran suspend its uranium enrichment activities, repeating that Iran would continue pursuing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.