Senators aim to deny SPR oil to firms over Iran trade

WASHINGTON Thu Feb 2, 2012 5:53pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Foreign companies that trade oil with Iran should be banned from buying oil from U.S. emergency reserves, a group of 17 U.S. senators said on Thursday, unveiling a bill that would build on a raft of new sanctions that aim to constrict Tehran's oil revenues.

The bill was sparked by concerns from lawmakers about sales of oil from the U.S. strategic petroleum reserve to Vitol and Trafigura last year, part of an international draw-down of emergency stockpiles after unrest in Libya sent oil prices soaring.

"There were two entities that were essentially able to purchase oil from the SPR and these are companies that have known trading activities with Iran," Senator Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Energy Committee, told reporters.

This is an issue where I think we need to make sure there are teeth and there is enforcement when we are talking about Iran sanctions and that when we have loopholes like this that we figure out a way to address them," said Murkowski, who cosponsored the bill with Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell.

Fifteen other senators have signed on to support the bill.

The full Senate is expected to soon consider a wide range of new measures aimed at reducing revenues that lawmakers believe Iran is using to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies seeking nuclear arms.

On Thursday, the U.S. Senate Banking Committee advanced a bill that would target Iran's ability to receive electronic payments for oil, and could also result in sanctions for banks that handle transactions for the National Iranian Oil Company.

(Writing by Roberta Rampton; Editing by David Gregorio)

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