By Susan Cornwell and Tom Doggett
WASHINGTON, March 22 (Reuters) - Companies worldwide that supply gasoline to Iran would be largely prevented from doing business with the United States under bills that have passed the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
Negotiators must combine the bills into one if Congress is to pass the measure and send it to President Barack Obama for signing into law. The influential pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC, which is meeting in Washington this week, is urging U.S. lawmakers to finish the job.
The goal is to pressure Iran to stop its uranium enrichment program that Washington says is aimed at making a bomb and Tehran says is for producing energy. Key U.S. lawmakers would like to coordinate these sanctions, but it is unclear how long Congress will wait for the international community to act.
U.S. companies are already prohibited from trading with and investing in Iran. Foreign companies that invest in Iran’s energy sector already can be sanctioned under existing U.S. law. But no penalties have ever been imposed under this law.
Following are some key provisions of the House and Senate bills aimed at punishing Iran for its nuclear program.
Both the Senate and House bills would sanction any company worldwide that exports gasoline or other refined petroleum products to Iran, or that provides Iran with goods or services that help it expand its own production of these products.
The sanctions would kick in under the House bill if the value of the gasoline is more than $200,000 — or more than $500,000 during one year. The Senate would put the aggregate threshold at $1 million.
Companies that finance, broker or underwrite the shipments or deliver the gasoline also would be subject to sanctions.
Both bills would impose these sweeping new sanctions on companies engaging in the prohibited activities:
— Foreign exchange: Companies could not engage in currency exchanges through U.S. banks.
— Banking transactions: Companies could not use U.S. financial institutions for credit transactions or payments.
— Property transactions: Companies could not engage in property transactions with U.S. citizens or companies.
— Government contracts: Companies could not get U.S. government contracts.
Both bills would allow the U.S. president to waive sanctions, as he can under existing law. But the House bill says this could happen only if the president certifies to Congress a waiver is "vital" to U.S. national security interests.
The Senate bill has the following additional provisions:
The Senate bill would ban direct imports from Iran to the United States and exports from the United States to Iran, except for food and medicines.
Senators want the Obama administration to freeze the assets of Iranians, including Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, who are active in weapons proliferation or terrorism.
State and local governments and private asset fund managers could divest from firms that invested over $20 million in Iran’s energy sector without being sued by fund shareholders.
CONTROLS ON SENSITIVE TECHNOLOGY
The Senate bill would strengthen export controls to stop the illegal black market export of sensitive technology to Iran through other countries and impose tough new licensing requirements on those who refuse to cooperate.
Companies that supply Iran with communications monitoring technology could not get U.S. government contracts under the Senate bill. The Iranian opposition movement’s communications have been disrupted by the government.
The Senate bill would apply the U.S. ban on trade with Iran to foreign subsidiaries of U.S. firms.
To address concerns the bill could backfire by antagonizing U.S. trading partners, the House bill’s sponsor Representative Howard Berman says he is open to creating exceptions for companies from countries with their own robust sanctions on Iran.
Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman want to add an amendment dealing with human rights violations. Their proposal would require the U.S. president to compile a public list of individuals in Iran who are complicit in human rights violations. They would then be banned from getting U.S. visas and would have their financial assets frozen in U.S. banks.
This could be added during the House-Senate negotiations, as could any other amendment agreed on by negotiators.
(Editing by Will Dunham)