US leans toward new sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program
Ready to act, even without partners
WASHINGTON - Frustrated by Iran’s continued defiance of demands to come clean on its nuclear program, the Obama administration is leaning toward imposing new sanctions, even if it must act alone.
Administration officials acknowledged growing concern that there may not be international consensus to expand the existing UN sanctions, despite Tehran’s apparent rejection of a confidence-building measure proposed by the UN’s nuclear watchdog in hopes of making progress on the nuclear issue.
To that end, the administration is quietly supporting legislation in Congress that would give President Obama a broad new array of authority to target Iran’s energy sector by penalizing foreign firms that sell and ship refined petroleum products to Iran. The regime is heavily dependent on gasoline, kerosene, and propane imports.
The legislation would also allow the administration to go after insurance and reinsurance concerns that cover oil tankers and their cargo. And the United States could also target companies that provide Iran with covert technology used to crack down on protesters and democracy advocates as it did during demonstrations this summer after a disputed national election.
US officials took a neutral public stance on the legislation when it cleared two key congressional panels this week. They were anxious not to endanger ongoing negotiations between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Tehran over a deal that would see most of Iran’s low enriched uranium shipped out of the country for reprocessing, handicapping its ability to use the uranium for weapons instead of energy.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in an interview with CNN yesterday that the administration wants to let the negotiating process “play out.’’
But White House press secretary Robert Gibbs expressed limited patience with Iran. “The president’s time is not unlimited,’’ he said when asked whether it was time to pursue tougher sanctions.
And privately, officials said they welcomed approval of the bills by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday and the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee on Thursday.
“We have to be prepared to act and we are not going to let this drag out forever,’’ said one administration official.
Officials stress that they do not want the administration to act alone and would far prefer to have any new sanctions be adopted by the UN Security Council. The UN body has already adopted three sets of penalties on Iran, which would kick in if Iran continues to stonewall offers to cease uranium enrichment in exchange for incentives.