WASHINGTON — The Senate, frustrated by the situation in the Persian Gulf, gave unanimous approval today to a bill that would ban all U.S. trade with Iran.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a similar measure with little debate and sent it to the full House, which was expected to approve it later in the day.
Under the Senate legislation, approved 93 to 0, all U.S. imports from Iran would be banned immediately unless President Reagan certifies that the ban would harm U.S. interests. In that case, the President could delay the effective date of the ban by up to six months.
The Reagan Administration, while expressing sympathy with the legislation's intent, has taken no position on the bill. But one Administration official questioned its effectiveness.
"It would be more a profound moral statement than an effective cutoff of their exports," said Paul Freedenberg, acting undersecretary of commerce for export administration. He cited previous U.S. efforts banning Libyan oil which he said met with no success.
The House version also gives the President authority to enter into negotiations with other countries to persuade them to ban Iranian imports. The ban would last until Iran halts belligerent acts against gulf shipping.
The House trade ban would not affect U.S. sales to Iran, which are relatively minor--about $32 million in 1986--and consist primarily of low-technology manufactured goods. The United States bans sales of military equipment to Iran.
Even backers of the legislation conceded that the action is largely symbolic and an attempt to bring U.S. trade policy into line with new military realities in the gulf.
The legislation was spurred by news that U.S. oil imports from Iran have more than doubled this year as domestic oil companies try to build up stockpiles in anticipation of problems in the gulf, where shipping has been plagued by Iranian and Iraqi attacks.
The Senate had passed similar legislation last week as part of a massive defense bill, but backers decided to separate the issue from that bill because of the likelihood that the package would be vetoed by Reagan for unrelated reasons.