WASHINGTON (AP) — Ignoring White House opposition, the Senate voted overwhelmingly Friday to impose tough new sanctions on Iran's domestic industries as it targets the Islamic Republic's economy to thwart its nuclear ambitions.
The 94-0 vote for a package of penalties reflected fears about the threat of Iran's nuclear program and the strong desire to protect the United States' closest Mideast ally Israel. Shortly before the vote, the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee urged senators to back the measure.
Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., sponsored the amendment to a sweeping defense bill that the Senate hopes to finish next week. The punitive measures build on sanctions on Tehran's oil and financial industries that Menendez and Kirk shepherded through Congress in the past year.
"The most recent sanctions are working toward crippling Iran's economy but Iran hasn't quit trying," Menendez said on the Senate floor.
Said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.: "The screws need to be tightened."
The sanctions would designate Iran's energy, port, shipping and ship-building sectors as entities of proliferation and sanction transactions with these areas. The legislation also would penalize individuals selling or supplying commodities such as graphite, aluminum and steel to Iran, all products that are crucial to Tehran's ship-building and nuclear operations.
In a memo from the National Security Council just hours before the vote, the administration argued that the new sanctions were unnecessary, duplicative and "threaten to confuse and undermine" provisions in current law.
Specifically, the administration complained about the omission of waivers that would give the president more flexibility, ambiguities that would make implementation difficult and requirements for congressional reports on thousands of small and mid-size vessels that dock at Iranian seaports that were too burdensome.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the memo.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., acknowledged the administration's reservations and said he hoped lawmakers could address those concerns in crafting the final version of the bill.
The legislation also would designate the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting and its president as human rights abusers for broadcasting forced televised confessions and show trials.
The United States and European Union have imposed tough sanctions on Iran that have weakened its economy. But Tehran has found ways to bypass the penalties, such as Turkey's use of gold to pay for Iranian natural gas imports.
The Menendez-Kirk measure would allow the president to impose sanctions in cases of the sale or transfer of precious metals, targeting efforts by Iran to circumvent the penalties.
Iran maintains that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.
The president has 90 days from the legislation's enactment to act. The bill does include the authority to waive the sanctions based on national security.
The $631 billion defense policy bill for next year authorizes money for weapons, ships, aircraft and a 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel. The total is $4 billion less than the House-passed bill, and House-Senate negotiators will have to work out the difference in the closing days of this year.