Citing the movement of two Iranian warships toward the Suez Canal and a potential confrontation with Israel, a bipartisan group of members of Congress on Wednesday called for tougher sanctions against Tehran to thwart its nuclear ambitions.
"If we can bring greater transparency to any investment being made in Iran, we can defund nuclear development in one of the world’s most hostile nations,” said New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, in a conference call with reporters. “America can not and will not tolerate a nuclear Iran.”
She was joined in the call by Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican and Representatives Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat, and Dan Burton, a Republican from Indiana.
The legislators announced the Iran Transparency and Accountability Act, which will require U.S. companies to disclose any sanctionable investments in Iran in their quarterly and annual reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and require U.S. banks to report sanctionable activities by their foreign correspondent banks.
“We have to have a zero tolerance policy for any company that puts its profits ahead of our security and the security of our allies,” said Gillibrand.
Last year both houses of Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed a bill making it illegal for U.S. companies to do invest in with Iran’s energy and baking sector. But the sponsors of the new bill say that loopholes allow eight companies with listed affiliates on the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq to support Iran’s energy sector, while 18 U.S. banks have ties to foreign banks that also service Iranian institutions.
The eight companies were identified by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a non-partisan policy institute, as Alcatel-Lucent of France, China National Offshore Oil Company, China National Petroleum Company, China Petroleum & Chemical Corp, Japan’s Mitsubishi and Mitsui, Anglo-Dutch firm Royal Dutch Shell, and Sasol of South Africa.
Kirk said the Congressional Research service identified 25 companies who are in potential violation of the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996, while the Government Accountability Office identified 41.
“This is necessary legislation to actually implement the law passed during the Clinton administration,” said Kirk. “Hopefully this will pass rapidly so we can move into cutting off the gasoline supply to Iran, which is the only thing that will cripple the regime.
Asked about the Obama administration’s view of the bill Deutch said the sponsors had been in contact with the State Department in drafting it. “The administration has made Iran sanctions a top foreign policy priority,” he said.
The legislators said intelligence reports indicate Iran is overcoming he challenges from the Stuxnet cyber attack that damaged its centrifuges and already has enough enriched uranium for several nuclear weapons, and that there were very few peaceful purposes for that material.
When asked if the U.S. — which has the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise in the area — should try to stop the Iranian ships, identified in Israeli reports as an MK-5 frigate and a supply ship from passing through the Suez into the Mediterranean, Kirk said the journey was provocative but legal.
“This is the first time in many years we have seen Iran in the Red Sea,” said Kirk, a commander in the Naval Reserves. “It is not a threat to Israel. They could sink those vessels in a long hour. But t does show the increasing reach of the Iranian navy.”
Kirk said he suspected the ships were destined for a port in Syria after cruising the Israeli coast to the monitor communications along the way.