updated 5/17/2007 11:40:13 PM ET 2007-05-18T03:40:13

The House took steps Thursday to make it harder for Iran to acquire parts for its aging F-14 fighter jets, voting to ban the Pentagon from selling leftover spares from its retired Tomcat fleet to anyone but museums.

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Originally a separate measure called the "Stop Arming Iran Act," the ban was added to a $646 billion bill to fund the military in the budget year that starts Oct. 1. The House approved the legislation Thursday. A Senate vote is still needed.

The proposed ban comes as the Defense Department continues a voluntary review of F-14 parts to determine whether it could sell any on the surplus market without jeopardizing national security. Iran is the only country known to be trying to keep F-14s flyable.

The F-14 legislation's lead sponsors — Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. — contend that broad restrictions on the parts sales are needed to help prevent sensitive components from accidentally slipping into Pentagon surplus auctions and from there, into Iran's hands. The legislation would allow only U.S. museums and historical groups to buy Tomcat parts, and would prohibit the granting of export licenses for any F-14 components.

"I believe that the process needs to be tightened up and now that I've really been made much more aware of the problems that can arise, I plan to be more vigilant on future problems," said Giffords, whose district includes Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, where many retired F-14s are stored. The Stop Arming Iran Act was the first bill introduced by the first-term congresswoman, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Giffords and Wyden sponsored the legislation after The Associated Press reported in January that buyers for Iran, China and other countries exploited gaps in Pentagon surplus-sale security to acquire sensitive military equipment including parts for F-14s, other aircraft and missiles. In at least one case, a surplus purchase made it to Iran, law enforcement officials say.

Should the defense funding bill fail to become law, Giffords plans to pursue the F-14 parts measure in its original form as separate legislation.

Sold F-14s during friendlier times
The United States let Iran buy F-14s in the 1970s when the countries were on good terms. The U.S. military retired its Tomcats last year.

The Pentagon originally planned to destroy components unique to the F-14 but sell thousands of others that could be used on multiple types of aircraft. After the AP's report, it temporarily stopped the sales and began a full security review of the jet parts.

Giffords said that any F-14s that went to historical groups would have to be demilitarized — made useless for military purposes — but that it was important to preserve examples of the jet for former F-14 pilots, military historians and future engineers to see. She noted that her fiance's brother flew the Tomcat.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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