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A New Move to Sever U.S. Business From Iran

Even in times of bitter partisan bickering, there is one issue that easily gets bipartisan support: the Iranian nuclear threat.

Two Republicans and two Democrats joined forces today to introduce a new piece of legislation meant to keep the pressure on the regime in Tehran. The Iran Transparency and Accountability Act is co-sponsored in the Senate by New York Democrat Kirstin Gillibrand and Illinois Republican Mark Kirk, and in the House by Indiana Republican Dan Burton and Florida Democrat Ted Deutch.

The idea behind this bill is to tighten already existing sanctions against Iran and to close loopholes by going after companies traded in the New York Stock Exchange that have business ties with Iran either directly or through subsidiaries. The bill would require these companies to file a quarterly report with the SEC detailing their dealings with Iran. From there, it will be up to the government to decide if they breached already existing sanctions and if so what measures should be taken against them.

The motivation for such legislation, which was backed by pro-Israel advocacy groups, gathered force following reports prepared by the Government Accounting Office and the Congressional Research Center that listed between 25 to 41 companies that still do business with Iran. The Treasury Department looked at six companies that allegedly broke the sanctions law and decided to forgive five of them since they were taking measures to end ties with Iran. Only one company was actually sanctioned.

“This is the next step to cut business ties with Iran,” said Senator Gillibrand in a news conference call on Wednesday. She stressed that there is a need for a “zero tolerance policy” toward companies that continue to profit from ties with Iran. Senator Kirk added that he has been “very frustrated” with the way sanctions had been enforced thus far.

All four co-sponsors of the legislation seemed optimistic about the chances of the bill passing and stressed that it enjoys support of committee chairs in both chambers.

But history shows that if there is any one barrier for getting such legislation through, it’s the administration, which at times has pushed to delay or water down congressional actions against Iran, fearing they’d interfere with foreign policy interests. So far, the administration has not made its opinion public about this piece of legislation.

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