WASHINGTON – Senior US officials have acknowledged that newly imposed sanctions against Iran would not be enough to end its quest for nuclear capabilities, but told Congress that the approach was bearing fruit.
“It will certainly not change the calculations of the Iranian leadership overnight, nor is it a panacea,” William Burns, under-secretary for political affairs at the State Department, said of US-backed sanctions passed by the UN Security Council earlier this month during testimony Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “But it is a mark of the potential effect that Iran has worked so hard in recent months to avert action in the Security Council and tried so hard to deflect or divert the steps that are now under way.”
Stuart Levey, under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department, who joined Burns in testifying before the committee, said that the resolution would likely intensify Iranian efforts to deceive international companies about its actions, the precise type of activity that has led many to voluntarily abandon their business with Teheran.
“In response to this information and in order to protect their own reputations, virtually all major financial institutions have either completely cut off or dramatically reduced their financial ties with Iran,” Levey said. “We are now starting to see other companies across a range of sectors – including insurance, consulting, energy and manufacturing – making similar decisions.”
Both officials stressed the importance of the new UN resolution as a catalyst for countries to take further steps. The measure, according to Burns, “provides a valuable new platform and valuable new tools. Now we need to make maximum use of them.”
Congress is trying to do exactly that with expanded Iran sanctions, which it has moved closer to approving.
After weeks of meetings to reconcile separate bills passed by the House and Senate, the committee announced late Monday that it had reached a consensus on the draft text. House and Senate members will be able to weigh in before the final version is voted on by both chambers – where it is expected to pass by wide margins – and sent to the White House for the president’s signature.
The draft legislation expands the sanctions approved in the earlier versions to include efforts to prevent foreign companies from working with Iran’s financial sector if there are suspicions the money could aid terrorism or proliferation, or its refined petroleum industry. The bill calls for US companies to certify their subsidiaries aren’t involved with illicit Iranian activities – as some have been found to do – as well as other provisions to report which international entities are involved with Iran.
As of now, the legislation also includes “significant financial penalties and travel restrictions on Iran’s human rights abusers” and “increases substantially the criminal penalties for sanctions violations by US entities,” according to the bill summary.
“If applied forcefully by the president, this act will bring strong new pressure to bear on Teheran in order to combat its proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, support for international terrorism, and gross human rights abuses,” said sponsors Rep. Howard Berman (D-California) and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) in a statement Monday.
At Tuesday’s hearing, lawmakers urged the administration to sign on to the measure.
“It is important that we speak with a very strong voice,” said Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Maryland).
While the White House said it supported the goals of the legislation after the new draft came out Monday night, it indicated it would still like to see changes made.
“We will continue to work with the Congress over the coming days as it finalizes work on this important bill, and in our ongoing efforts to hold Iran accountable,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs in a statement.
The administration has long had reservations that the legislation would restrict the president’s ability to provide exemptions to countries considered helpful on international sanctions and which he would not want to alienate.
“It is no secret that our international partners contain their
enthusiasm for extra-territorial applications of US legislation, and
that’s why we continue to work closely with you and your colleagues to
try to ensure that the measures are going to be targeted in a way that
maximizes the goal here,” Burns told the Senate panel.
Despite the differences, ongoing intensive consultations reduce the
risk of a presidential veto, which would in any case be politically
The final vote on the bill could come as early as this week.
Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency, under the auspices
of the UN, has agreed to help Egypt build nuclear power plants, Reuters
The report quoted IAEA chief Yukiya Amano as saying that the UN
watchdog would be “very happy” to cooperate with Egypt in its project
of introducing nuclear power.
“Now Egypt is finalizing its plan of choosing the site for its nuclear plant,” Amano added.
Separately, Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with UN Secretary-General
Ban Ki-moon late Monday ahead of his participation in the Socialist
International conference in New York.
He was reported as calling on Ban to give Israel’s internal
investigation into the Gaza flotilla raid a chance before calling for
an international investigation, according to an Army Radio report.
He also reportedly told the Socialist International conference that
“the Gaza Strip today is an Iranian military base three kilometers from
the closest Israeli city.” Speaking to reporters, he warned that Israel
would hold Lebanon responsible for granting permission for another ship
with activists and aid on board to embark for Cyprus in an attempt to
break the naval blockade of Gaza just weeks after a deadly Israeli raid
on a different ship.
“There could be friction that could lead to violence, which is totally unnecessary,” he said.
Jerusalem Post staff and the Associated Press contributed to this report