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Trade with Iran? Reliance may face ban in US

Last updated on: April 29, 2009 19:20 IST
Asking India's Reliance Industries and other energy firms doing trade with Iran to choose either Tehran or Washington, US Senators have moved a bill aimed at penalising such companies.

"We know who these companies are - Shell, Vitol, BP and Reliance - and we need to give them a choice: you can do business with Iran's $250 billion economy or our $13 trillion economy, but not both," said senator Jon Kyl, who was a part of the bipartisan coalition of 25 senators that introduced the bill.

The senators have sought to strengthen President Barack Obama's authority for stopping Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons through their proposed legislation, which targets foreign companies that sell gasoline or other refined petroleum products to Iran.

The legislation also authorises the President to impose stronger penalties on these firms, including a ban on conducting business in the US.

The legislation, introduced in the US Senate on Tuesday, comes within days of another resolution introduced in the House of Representatives on April 21 to enhance the Obama administration's diplomatic efforts with respect to Iran by expanding economic sanctions against the country. 

The new bills seek to make it a policy of the US to encourage foreign governments "to direct state-owned entities to cease all investment in Iran's energy sector and all exports of refined petroleum resources to Iran".

The US can also ask other nations "to persuade, and where possible, require private entities based on their territories to cease all investment in Iran's energy sector and all exports of refined petroleum resources to Iran."

Both the bills have been referred to various House and Senate committees, including those on foreign affairs, financial services and oversight and government reforms.

Another US Senator who signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill, Mike Johanns said that, if passed, the legislation would give the President authority to put in place new, stronger sanctions on persons and businesses that help Iran import refined petroleum or develop its own resources.

"As Iran is forced to import as much as 40 per cent of its gasoline from abroad, these tougher sanctions could be used to achieve concessions from the Iranian government regarding its nuclear ambitions," Johanns said.

"We already live in a dangerous world, and we cannot allow Iran to realise its nuclear ambitions and make the world even more dangerous," he added.

As per the previous bill, introduced in the House of Representatives last week, the Congress has found that Iran has not answered International Atomic Energy Agency's questions "about possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear programme."

The Congress findings further point out that up to 40 per cent of Iranian gasoline comes from imports and over the course of past year, Iran purchased nearly all this gasoline from just six companies, including Reliance Industries.

Five other companies were European -- Swiss firm Vitol, Swiss/Dutch firm Trafigura, the French firm Total, the Swiss firm Glencore and British Petroleum.

In February 2009, Vitol and Trafigura supplied about 80 per cent of Iran's gasoline imports, while RIL and BP "reportedly did not supply gasoline to Iran that month."

The Congress further found that "an interruption or significant limiting of the supply of gasoline to Iran would considerably impact the Iranian economy" and an international restriction of gasoline exports to Iran would significantly "bolster current diplomatic initiatives."

The Congress also took note of a statement made on Obama on October 7, 2008, when he was a senator and had said that "Iran right now imports gasoline...if we can prevent them from importing the gasoline that they need...that starts changing their cost-benefit analysis. That starts putting the squeeze on them."

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