By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid will ask the U.S. Senate to approve a new package of oil and economic sanctions on Thursday aimed at further pressuring Iran to abandon its nuclear program, a Democratic leadership aide told Reuters.
The politically popular sanctions are focused on foreign banks that handle transactions for Iran's national oil and tanker companies, and include measures to close loopholes in existing sanctions.
Iran has insisted its nuclear program is for civilian purposes.
The sanctions build on penalties signed into law by President Barack Obama in December that have made it difficult for Tehran, the world's third-largest petroleum exporter, to sell its oil, in a bid to cut the flow of revenues suspected of supporting the nuclear program.
The move comes ahead of negotiations beginning May 23 in Baghdad between Iran and world powers concerned about Tehran's nuclear program.
Speaking on background, a senior Republican congressional aide called revisions made to the sanctions package "significant," and said the bill could have repercussions for the Baghdad talks.
"The Iranian reaction will be interesting to watch," said the aide, who expects Republicans will support Reid's request to move ahead.
TOUGHER SANCTIONS AHEAD
The bill was revised from a version passed in February by the Senate Banking Committee, the Democratic aide said, noting the revised bill has received strong support from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful pro-Israel lobby group.
Reid brought the bill before the Senate in March for a "unanimous consent" voice vote, but that failed because some Republican senators had sought amendments, such as sanctions on companies that insure trade with Iran.
The revised bill includes sanctions on companies supplying telecommunications equipment used to monitor dissidents, the aide said, and adds non-binding language urging the Obama administration to sanction insurers of oil shipments, the aide said.
"AIPAC has signed off on this and is strongly supporting it and is urging Republicans to do the same," the aide said.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed its version of the new sanctions package last December. If the Senate agrees to move forward on the bill, the two bodies will need to agree on how to settle differences.
"Senate Democrats have just agreed to open the door to even tougher sanctions during conference negotiations on the bill, particularly those targeting the provision of insurance to Iranian entities, business conducted with or services provided to Iranian energy companies and the extension of sanctions to all Iranian financial institutions," the Republican aide said.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Sandra Maler and Philip Barbara)