WASHINGTON – US lawmakers pushed Monday to punish firms that do business with Iran in defiance of US sanctions, angry over a report that Washington awarded such companies roughly 107 billion dollars.
Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand called for immediate passage of a pending bill that could deny US government contracts to companies that provide Iran with gasoline or invest in the Islamic republic's energy sector.
Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also backed imposing a three-year ban on government contracts for companies that falsely claim they do not do business with Iran?s refined petroleum sector.
"We need to send a strong, clear signal to Iran that until it halts its nuclear ambitions, the dangerous state will be denied the benefits of access to the global economy," she said in a statement.
"Company offenders whose profits serve to fuel Iran?s nuclear ambitions should not be allowed to do business with the US, period," she said.
Her comments came after The New York Times reported late Saturday that Washington has awarded more than 107 billion dollars in payments to foreign and US companies doing business in Iran despite US sanctions.
That sum included nearly 15 billion dollars paid to companies that defied US sanctions law by making large investments that helped Iran develop its vast oil and gas reserves, said the paper.
In another response to the report, nine US representatives pushed for toughening a 1996 law aimed at punishing companies that invest in Iran's energy sector, noting it has never led to sanctions on any company.
"The US government should be enforcing the Iran Sanctions Act, not rewarding firms that violate it," said Republican Representative Mark Kirk.
Kirk and Democratic Representative Ron Klein unveiled a bill to toughen the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA), requiring President Barack Obama's administration to investigate potential violators of the act and notify Congress of known offenders.
The 1996 law authorizes sanctions against non-US companies that invest more than 20 million dollars in Iran's oil and gas sectors.
In a letter to fellow lawmakers last week, Kirk and Klein noted that "while the original ISA was intended to deter investment in Iran?s energy sector, no entity has ever been held accountable under the Act."
The Iran Sanctions Enhancement Act would require the Government Accountability Office -- the investigative arm of Congress -- to publish a list of potential violators every month.
It calls for the president to conduct an immediate investigation based on that information and report back to the US Congress.
US lawmakers have stepped up calls on Obama to impose sanctions on Iran, as well as companies that do business with Tehran, in response to the Islamic Republic's refusal to freeze its suspect nuclear drive.
Tehran denies Western charges that its atomic program hides an effort to develop nuclear weapons and has rebuffed UN demands that it halt uranium enrichment, which can be a key step towards building an atomic arsenal.
"Our legislation will put an end to mixed signals and bring the economic pressure necessary to allow diplomacy to succeed," said Kirk.
© AFP 2013