Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Israel news photo: Flash 90

The United States Congress passed a new package of sanctions against Iran on Wednesday, Reuters reported.

The sanctions aim to punish banks, insurance companies and shippers that help Tehran sell its oil.

The legislation, agreed to by senior lawmakers of both parties in Congress, “seeks to tighten the chokehold on the regime beyond anything that has been done before,” according to Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

It builds on oil trade sanctions signed into law by President Barack Obama in December that have prompted Japan, South Korea, India and others to slash their purchases of Iranian oil.

“There is more we can do, more that we will do if Iran doesn't end its nuclear weapons program verifiably and completely,” Representative Howard Berman, the top Democrat on the foreign affairs panel, told Reuters.

The House of Representatives voted 421-6 to send the measure to the Senate, where a vote has not yet been scheduled. The vote is expected to be held before lawmakers leave at the end of the week for an extended recess.

Reuters reported that the bill was opposed by Representatives Ron Paul, a Republican, and Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat, who said on the House floor it would push the United States closer to war with Iran.

Several hours after it was passed by the House, the Senate passed the sanctions bill unanimously. The bill now heads to the White House for Obama's signature. White House officials said on Tuesday they were reviewing the bill.

Obama announced U.S. sanctions on Tuesday against foreign banks that help Iran sell its oil, specifically citing China's Bank of Kunlun and an Iraqi bank.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visited Israel on Wednesday and assured Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that America will prevent Iran from “ever acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

“I want to reassert again the position of the United States that with regards to Iran: We will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, period. We will not allow them to develop a nuclear weapon, and we will exert all options in the effort to ensure that that does not happen,” Panetta said during a joint press conference with Netanyahu.