The United States agrees with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's assessment that international sanctions have not had the desired effect on Iran's nuclear program, White House Spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.
Iran has "yet to make the choice it needs to make, which is to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions," Carney said. "We completely agree with the prime minister's assessment that Iran has failed to make that choice and that is absolutely a disappointment."
Speaking at a press conference with visiting US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta earlier Wednesday, Netanyahu said: "You recently said that sanctions on Iran are having a big impact on the Iranian economy. And that is correct. And I am sure that the recent sanctions advanced by the president and the congress will have an even greater impact on the Iranian economy. But unfortunately, it's also true that neither sanctions nor diplomacy have yet have any impact on Iran's nuclear weapons program."
In another statement of agreement with the Israeli prime minister, Carney added that sanctions were having "a significant effect on the Iranian economy."
Discussions over the effectiveness of international sanctions on Iran came as the US House of Representatives debated the implementation of a fresh round, closing in on the goal of imposing new penalties on Iran before the August Congressional recess.
The measure was expected to be approved by the House and Senate later in the day or Thursday before being sent to the White House for the president’s signature.
The new bill provides for sanctions on anyone who invests in Iran’s oil or natural gas sector, who provides refined petroleum products to Iran, who joins in energy ventures with Iran or who transports Iranian crude oil, closing several existing loopholes.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the measure a “bicameral, bipartisan agreement that represents the strongest set of sanctions ever put in place against the regime in Tehran.”
She explained that it “blacklists virtually all of Iran’s energy, financial and transportation sectors, and cuts off companies that keep doing business with Iran from access to our markets in the United States.”
It comes as the diplomatic process with Iran over its nuclear program has stalemated, as three recent rounds of between Iran and world powers have not led to concessions on the part of Tehran.
The measure, in the works for the past several months, moved towards passage at the same time that the executive branch imposed further sanctions of its own.
The White House on Tuesday slapped additional penalties on foreign banks that facilitate the sale of Iranian oil, including the designation of a Chinese bank.
In the past the White House has differed with Congress on some aspects of earlier Iran sanctions legislation, as the administration has sought waivers and other measures to preserve a wide latitude in how and to what degree to implement legislative provisions, but a top aide said Tuesday that the US embraced the current resolution.
“We are reviewing the specific text of the bill that was produced, but we’re quite optimistic that we’re going to be able to continue to work in lockstep with Congress with this new legislation,” Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor, told reporters on a conference call. “We certainly share the goal, and we believe it can be an important tool in adding to the sanctions regime we have in place.”
The vote Wednesday was expected to get wide support, but a few members of the House took to the floor to express their opposition.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who sought the Republican presidential nomination earlier this year, criticized the act as echoing the mistaken decision to go to war with Iraq.
“We’re beating the war drums once again,” he said, referring to Iran as “a third-world country” whose military assets can’t threaten America.
US lawmaker Howard Berman (D-California), ranking member of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee and a major backer of the legislation, countered Paul’s comments in his own floor remarks.
“The only hope we have for a peaceful solution is to apply enough pressure to ensure Iran ends its nuclear weapons program,” he said.
Berman also indicated that both the legislation and new designations Tuesday were not “the last word” on sanctions against Iran.
“Unless Iran agrees to end its weapons program, we must continue to pursue even tougher measures that would result in crippling sanctions on the Iranian regime,” he declared.