* No blanket waivers for U.S. allies, trade partners
* Do business with either the U.S. or Iran, lawmakers say
* Some companies backing away from Iran already
(Adds House vote, quotes)
By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON, June 24 Congress on Thursday
approved tough new unilateral sanctions aimed at squeezing
Iran's energy and banking sectors, which could also hurt
companies from other countries doing business with Tehran.
The House of Representatives passed the bill 408-8 and sent
it to President Barack Obama for signing into law. The Senate
had approved it 99-0 earlier in the day.
Congress wants to pressure Tehran into curbing its nuclear
program, which Washington suspects is aimed at making a bomb.
U.S. lawmakers from both parties have been pushing for
months to tighten U.S. sanctions on Iran. At the Obama
administration's request, they held off until the U.N. Security
Council and the European Union agreed on new multilateral
sanctions. But the lawmakers then declared that still tougher
measures were needed.
"The U.N. sanctions, though a good first step, are quite
tepid. And they are tepid because there are other members of
the Security Council who want to keep doing that business with
Iran. ... The United States ... has to pass these unilateral
sanctions," Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski said.
The bill penalizes companies supplying Iran with gasoline
as well as international banking institutions involved with
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, its nuclear program
or what Washington calls its support for terrorist activity.
It would effectively deprive foreign banks of access to the
U.S. financial system if they do business with key Iranian
banks or the Revolutionary Guards.
Such banks would be "shut out of the U.S. financial
system," said the bill's House author, Foreign Affairs
Committee Chairman Howard Berman. He is a Democrat.
Global suppliers of gasoline to Iran could also face bans
on access to the U.S. banking system, property transactions and
foreign exchange in the United States. Iran depends on gasoline
imports because it has insufficient refining capacity.
POSING A CHOICE
"Because of this legislation, we will be posing a choice to
companies around the world. Do you want to do business with
Iran, or do you want to do business with the United States?"
Republican Senator John McCain said during Senate debate.
U.S. companies are already prohibited from doing business
with Iran. Foreign companies with big investments in Iran's
energy sector also can be sanctioned under current U.S. law.
But many U.S. lawmakers say this has not been enforced.
Some companies worldwide, such as Italy's oil and gas
company Eni EN.MI and French energy giant Total (TOTF.PA)
have been backing away from business with Tehran amid the U.S.
drive to isolate Iran.
But other companies are still in business with Iran or
considering it. Russia's Gazprom (GAZP.MM) says it is
interested in developing the Azar oil field, and industry
sources say China has been selling gasoline to Iran.
The Obama administration failed to get U.S. lawmakers to
make blanket exemptions for countries that are cooperating with
multilateral efforts to isolate Iran.
The legislation only allows the president to waive the new
sanctions on companies from "cooperating" countries on a
case-by-case basis, for 12 months.
But even this waiver was too lenient for some House
Republicans, who worried Obama will use it.
"The many companies from China and elsewhere, rapidly
building Iran's energy facilities today, will be surely
exempted from these sanctions," said Representative Ed Royce.
He said he would nonetheless vote for the bill.
Russia and China, which have strong economic ties with
Tehran and have at times resisted sanctions, supported recent
U.N. sanctions. But they fought U.S. efforts to approve tougher
measures targeting Iran's energy sector.
(Editing by Deborah Charles and Xavier Briand)