The Next Iran VoteJune 23, 2009 - by Donny Shaw
Following on Congress’ approval last week of a pair of symbolic resolutions in support of the Iranian protesters (H Res 560, S Res 193), Rep. Mark Kirk [R, IL-10] is pushing for a vote on legislation that would actually put some economic pressure on Iran. Kirk’s legislation, which is in the form of an amendment to the draft fiscal 2010 State and foreign operations appropriations bill, would cut off U.S. loans to companies that supply gasoline to Iran. In particular, it’s aimed at loans going to Reliance Industries, an Indian oil company that provides a third of Iran’s petroleum.
Kirk worked Monday with Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, to draft language they both could support. Final details were unclear, but Kirk aims to block the U.S. Export-Import Bank from extending loan guarantees to companies that supply gasoline to Iran.
Although Iran is a large exporter of oil, the country lacks refining capacity and must import as much as 40 percent of its gasoline, a situation those arguing for tougher sanctions have sought to exploit.
“As they’re shooting kids in Tehran, this is not the time to provide taxpayer funding for a facility helping [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad ease his gas shortage problem,” Kirk said.
The Export-Import Bank provides loan guarantees for companies overseas to buy U.S. goods and services. The bank has provided Reliance with two loan guarantees totaling $900 million, including a $500 million guarantee to build the world’s sixth-largest refinery in Jamnagar, India.
Kirk said the company’s role in providing a large share of Iran’s refined petroleum makes it a target. “We think it would be good for Reliance just to choose not to do business with Iran,” he said.
Kirk’s amendment will be voted on today by the House Appropriations Committee. The vote will pit Democrats, who mostly approve of President Obama’s cautious handling of the situation in Iran, against Republicans, who want the U.S. to take a harder line against the Iranian government.
If it is approved, it will become part of the underlying foreign operations bill, which won’t get a vote from the full House until sometime after July 7, when Congress returns from the Independence Day recess. Even then, it would likely be months befor the amendment would take effect. The Senate would have to take up their foreign operations appropriations bill first and a conference committee would have to meet to reconcile the differences before the bill can be signed into law. The Senate doesn’t have plans to act on this any time soon.