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U.S. Congress set to extend Iran, Libya sanctions
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posted June 01, 2001 10:32
WASHINGTON, May 31 (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress is poised to vote overwhelmingly in favor of extending a law seeking to curb foreign investment in Iran's and Libya's oil and natural gas sectors, according to congressional sources. The move would lock the young Bush administration into a policy of continuing controversial sanctions against the two energy-rich nations, and sets up possible clashes with U.S. allies in Europe.
Legislation will be introduced in the Senate next week to reauthorize the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) for another five years.
The sanctions law, which is set to expire in August, was approved by Congress in 1996 to deny Iran and Libya the money to pay for what the United States believed were government-sponsored terrorist activities.
However, U.S. firms claim the law has not prevented foreign energy companies, especially those in Europe, from doing business with Iran and Libya.
USA*Engage, a coalition of U.S. companies opposed to the sanctions, said foreign investment of $10.5 billion has been made in Iran's oil and gas sector since ILSA took effect.
The law gives the president the authority to punish foreign firms that invest in Iran and Libya by, in part, denying U.S. Export-Import Bank financing and banning all imports of the violating companies.
The president could waive such sanctions, as has been done in the past, if it is deemed in the best interests of the United States to do so.
Senate passage of the sanctions bill is all but a formality at this point as 71 of the chamber's 100 lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors of the legislation, more than the 67 votes needed to overturn a presidential veto, a Senate staffer told Reuters on Thursday.
The legislation's key sponsors are Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York and Republican Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon.
A similar bill to extend sanctions was introduced in the House of Representatives last week with 213 Republican and Democratic co-sponsors, just five short of a majority. However, a congressional staffer said there were more than enough votes to pass the bill in the House.
"Sanctions are a very bipartisan issue," Danielle Petra, a senior Republican staffer with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Thursday at a Georgetown University conference on Iran and Libya sanctions. "There aren't the votes to repeal ILSA," she said.
Both the House and Senate bills call for a simple five-year extension of the sanctions laws, which would deny President George W. Bush the chance to significantly improve U.S. relations with Iran and Libya during his four-year term.
Bush could still ease sanctions imposed by prior presidential orders that restrict direct U.S. trade and investment with the two countries. However, Congress is likely to oppose such a move.
The House International Relations Committee is scheduled to approve the sanctions bill on June 6, and then the measure would head to the House floor for a final vote. The Senate bill is set to be introduced on the same day or the next.
Congress' actions will come several days before Iran's presidential election on June 8.
All times are PT (US)
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