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Congress works on new Iran sanctions

WASHINGTON -- House and Senate negotiators pushed to finish a new round of sanctions on Iran, targeting energy, shipping and insurance sectors with punitive measures to derail Tehran's suspected push for nuclear weapons.

Lawmakers hoped to unveil a final bill, with a House vote as early as Wednesday. Congress has a week before an August recess and members see the legislation as the last chance to impose crippling penalties on Iran.

Sanctions have broad bipartisan support and, in a crucial boost to the measure's prospects, officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, said they support the legislation.

The draft bill would sanction many transactions related to the energy sector and prohibit Iran from transferring money back to the country from oil sales to foreign nations. Any company shipping proliferation-sensitive goods to Iran would be subject to penalties, a provision pushed by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).

The bill would target the National Iranian Tanker Co., the state-run company and shipping line, as the measure looks to undermine the ways Iran ships oil.

The bill also would deny visas and freeze assets on individuals and companies that supply Iran with technology that could be used against its citizens, such as tear gas, rubber bullets and surveillance equipment. And it extends those sanctions on human rights violators to Syria.

The United States and Europe argue that depriving Iran of its oil income would thwart its suspected drive for nuclear weapons. Iran has exported 2.5 million barrels of oil a day to Europe, China, India, Japan and South Korea. U.S. officials say the penalties have reduced Iran oil exports to less than 1.8 million barrels per day, costing Iran about $63 million per day.

But the sanctions' effectiveness is being challenged.

"All the sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said over the weekend.

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