House preparing to vote Tuesday on Iran, Libya sanctions bill

Congressional leaders this week are preparing to consider a controversial sanctions law designed to punish foreign oil companies or countries that invest in Iran or Libya. Pending House bills would renew sanctions 5 more years; one plan would direct Congress to review sanctions in 18 months.

Jul 16th, 2001


By the OGJ Online Staff

WASHINGTON, DC, July 16 -- Congressional leaders this week are preparing to consider a controversial sanctions law designed to punish foreign oil companies or countries that invest in Iran or Libya.

The Iran Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 (ILSA) expires in August and a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the House and Senate have pledged to renew the legislation for 5 years. The White House has been seeking a 2-year extension, saying a longer time frame could be counterproductive. Bush administration officials are now conducting an across-the-board review of the use of sanctions, including existing trade embargos now in place against Iran, Libya, and Iraq.

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Tuesday. It is unclear what legislation Congress may send to the White House.

House Republicans are still considering various amendments to the 1996 law. A proposal passed by the House Committee on International Relations last month would penalize companies or countries that invest $20 million/year in either country. The current law set a $20 million threshold for Iran and $40 million limit for Libya. The committee version would also put any $20 million or more "improvement" made to a pre-ILSA investment subject to possible sanction.

Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by industry supporter Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) passed its own version of the bill. It also renews sanctions for 5 years but would allow Congress to repeal the law after 18 months following a study conducted by the White House. Opponents of ILSA say the amendment is a step in the right direction but is still rather limited -- Congress, not the White House would decide whether the law could be rescinded -- an action lawmakers can choose to do at any time, study or no study.

A third panel, the Committee on Financial Services, may also offer its own version before Republican leaders decide which version, or combination of versions, will be considered.

Over in the Democratic-led Senate, the Banking Committee held a hearing late last month but the committee has not reported out a bill (OGJ Online, June 28, 2001). Senate leaders have pledged however to have the bill ready for a vote before the current law expires Aug. 5.

The White House has not signaled whether it will veto the House version of the bill. Few public statements on Iran have been forthcoming from the White House although administration officials have indicated they have no plans to impose sanctions on any US ally that invests in Iran.

The current law gives the president wide discretionary powers to exempt or waive a foreign company or country from economic sanctions. And so far, the menu of sanction options, which include trade embargos, denial of US-backed financial guarantees, and other financial penalties, has never been enforced. That's despite the fact several US allies, namely the French and the Japanese, have negotiated large buy-back investment deals with Iran.

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