The House of Representatives easily passed a bill late on Wednesday to tighten sanctions on Iran, sending a strong message to Tehran over its disputed nuclear programme days before President-elect Hassan Rouhani is sworn in.
The vote also highlighted a growing divide between Congress and the Obama administration on Iran policy ahead of international talks on the nuclear programme. Iran insists the nuclear project is purely for civilian purposes.
The bill, which passed 400 to 20, would cut Iran’s oil exports by another one million barrels per day over a year to near zero, in an attempt to reduce the flow of funds to the nuclear programme. It is the first sanction to put a number on exactly how much oil would be cut.
The legislation provides for heavy penalties for buyers who do not find alternative supplies, limits Iran’s access to overseas funds and penalises countries trading with Iran in other industrial sectors.
Existing US and EU measures have already reduced Iran’s oil exports by more than half from about 2.2 million barrels per day, costing Tehran billions of dollars each month. The success of any toughening of the sanctions will depend on China, Iran’s top customer, which opposes unilateral sanctions outside the purview of the UN.