(Updates with detail; adds bylines)
By Tom Doggett and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON Jan 28 The U.S. Senate on Thursday
approved legislation that would let President Barack Obama
impose sanctions on Iran's gasoline suppliers and penalize some
of Tehran's elites, a move aimed at pressuring Tehran to give
up its nuclear program.
The sanctions, approved on a voice vote, would target
companies that export gasoline to Iran or help expand the
country's oil-refining capacity by, in part, denying them loans
and other assistance from U.S. financial institutions.
The House of Representatives has already passed similar
legislation. Differences between the two bills will have to be
worked out before the measure becomes law.
Lawmakers and the Obama administration fear Iran's uranium
enrichment program will be used to develop weapons, while
Tehran says it is for peaceful purposes such as generating
Many in Congress want to give Obama more tools to pressure
Iran. Cutting off gasoline supplies would hurt Tehran's
economy; while Iran has the world's third biggest oil reserves,
it must import 40 percent of its gasoline to meet domestic
demand because of a lack of refining capacity.
In his State of the Union address on Wednesday, Obama
warned Tehran faced "growing consequences" over its nuclear
program. The administration has been working with several other
major powers to build a consensus on new sanctions to be
But U.S. business groups have warned the White House that
the lawmakers' approach threatens to undercut this joint
strategy. The critics say broad-based sanctions sought by
lawmakers would upset U.S. allies whose companies would be
affected, and frustrate joint action with other countries
The sanctions in the Senate bill would extend to companies
that build oil and gas pipelines in Iran and provide tankers to
move Iran's petroleum.
The measure also prohibits the U.S. government from
purchasing goods from foreign companies that do business in
Iran's energy sector.
The Senate acted on the same day that Iran hanged two men
convicted in the wake of political unrest in the country. "The
situation in Iran is terrible and it's worsening. People are
dying in Iran as we speak," said Senator John McCain just
before the Senate vote.
Other provisions in the bill would:
* Impose a broad ban on direct imports from Iran to the
United States and exports from the United States to Iran,
exempting food and medicines;
* Require the Obama administration to freeze the assets of
Iranians, including Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, who are
active in weapons proliferation or terrorism;
* Allow state and local governments and private asset fund
managers to easily divest from energy firms doing business with
* Strengthen export controls to stop the illegal black
market export of sensitive technology to Iran through other
countries and impose tough new licensing requirements on those
who refuse to cooperate.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)