The Obama administration and Congress moved separately Tuesday to tighten the economic screws on Iran, betting that additional pressure from sanctions will force Iranian officials to accept a compromise to curb their nuclear activities.
The White House imposed new penalties on two foreign banks — one in China, another in Iraq — for allegedly acting as surrogates for Iranian financial institutions that have been nearly shut down by previous rounds of U.S. and European sanctions.
The administration also announced expanded restrictions on the purchase of Iranian petrochemical products, such as methanol and xylene. Iran’s petroleum industry already faces tough U.N. sanctions and a Europewide embargo on crude exports.
Iran has resisted compromising on its nuclear program — which it maintains is solely for the purpose of peaceful energy production — through five rounds of international negotiations.
President Obama, in a statement announcing the new sanctions, said the administration remained committed to finding a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis but said the “onus is on Iran to abide by its international obligations.”
“If the Iranian government continues its defiance, there should be no doubt that the United States and our partners will continue to impose increasing consequences,” the statement said.
The announcement came hours before U.S. lawmakers were due to vote on a bipartisan measure that would slap still more economic sanctions on Iran. The compromise bill, approved by House and Senate negotiators late Monday, would expand penalties on companies doing business with Iran’s national oil company and tanker fleet and would make it harder for Iran to extract payment for any petroleum it does sell.
“Unless Iran agrees to end its weapons program, we must continue to pursue even tougher measures,” said Rep. Howard L. Berman (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a co-sponsor of the bill.
Lawmakers from both parties have been pushing to get legislation through Congress before the August recess to send a message of resolve to the Islamic republic.
Iran has balked at proposals — put forward by the United States and five other powers during talks in the past three months — to curb its uranium enrichment program and take additional steps to ease international concerns about its nuclear ambitions.
The most recent rounds of talks, last week in Istanbul, ended without a deal and with no additional negotiations scheduled. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Monday said he expected that a date for a new round of negotiations would soon be set, but U.S. and European officials have been reluctant to agree to further negotiations without a clear indication that Iran is prepared to make concessions.
Iran’s leaders “do not appear to have made the strategic decision to address the international community’s concerns about their nuclear program in a serious way,” said a senior administration official, insisting on anonymity in discussing sensitive international diplomacy.
“Iran needs to understand that the international community is united, and Iran needs to commit to real, concrete steps back toward full compliance with its international obligations,” the official said.