US Senate toughens Tehran penalties over nuke program

By Donna Cassata, AP

WASHINGTON — Intent on weakening Iran economically, the U.S. Senate on Monday approved tough new penalties on the Tehran regime to thwart its nuclear ambitions.

By voice vote, the Senate backed the measure ahead of talks between leading nations and Iran in Baghdad on Wednesday. The bill would target Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, require companies that trade on the U.S. stock exchange to disclose any Iran-related business to the Securities and Exchange Commission and would expand penalties for energy and uranium mining joint ventures with Tehran.

The bill also would deny visas and freeze assets on individuals and companies that supply Iran with technology that could be used to crack down on its citizens, such as tear gas, rubber bullets and surveillance equipment.

Both the Obama administration and the international community have imposed tough sanctions on Iran over its nuclear development program, which Iran maintains is for peaceful purposes only.

“Any comprehensive policy that seeks to end Iran’s effort to acquire a nuclear weapon needs to convince the rulers in Tehran that their survival is in question,” Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement. “While sanctions are one part of convincing the Supreme Leader that the costs of pursuing this weapon outweigh any perceived benefit, Senate Republicans insisted that the Senate pass nothing less than the president’s commitment that all options are on the table, in order to prevent any contrary perception that silence on the use of force would have created.”

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, a leading proponent of tough penalties on Iran, said the legislation sends a clear message to Tehran in advance of the talks: “Provide a real and verifiable plan for the complete dismantling of your nuclear weapons program, or Washington will further tighten the economic noose.”

Republican Sen. Mark Kirk said, “Today the U.S. Senate put Iranian leaders on notice that they must halt all uranium enrichment activities or face another round of economic sanctions from the United States.”