'US 'aggressively' implementing Iran sanctions'

Senior US official pushes back against charges Obama isn't acting fast enough on sanctions but says Washington is open to "serious" negotiations with Iran on nuclear program.

A general view of the Bushehr main nuclear reactor 311 R (photo credit: Reuters/ Raheb Homavandi)
A general view of the Bushehr main nuclear reactor 311 R
(photo credit: Reuters/ Raheb Homavandi)
WASHINGTON ­ -- A senior US administration official on Wednesday denied Iranian assertions that negotiations for arranging a meeting to discuss its nuclear program were underway, and said that any future meeting would not affect fresh sanctions on Tehran.
"We are going to move forward aggressively to implement and execute these sanctions. There is nothing that would change what we do until Iran takes steps to address the international community's concerns," the official said in response to a question from The Jerusalem Post at a briefing with the Israeli media. "There will be no pulling back from what we are doing here."
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The official interpreted the recent Iranian statements that plans for a meeting were underway between Tehran and the six world powers handling talks as a sign that Iran felt the sanctions were having "bite."
The official added that the US remained open to talking to Iran about its nuclear program so long as negotiations were "serious" and "without preconditions."
The US imposed a new round of sanctions targeting foreign companies doing business with Iran this winter with the aim of decreasing Iran's oil revenue.
As the sanctions were signed into law, Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, which observers also interpreted as a sign the sanctions were seen as a serious threat by the Iranians.
But the US said it would not allow the Strait to be closed, and US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reiterated that point Wednesday, saying, "We have continually maintained a strong presence in the region to make very clear that we are going to do everything possible to secure the peace in that part of the world.”
He also said that the US didn’t need to bolster its troop presence there.
“We are not [taking] any special steps at this point in order to deal with the situation,” he said at a press briefing. "Why? Because frankly we are fully prepared to deal with that situation now."
Some critics, including in Israel, have questioned whether the US has been doing enough and whether the added measure will have an impact.
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"In the United States, the Senate passed a resolution, by a majority of 100-to-one, to impose these sanctions, and in the US administration there is hesitation for fear of oil prices rising this year, out of election-year considerations," Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon was quoted as telling Israel Radio earlier this week. "In that regard, this is certainly a disappointment, for now."
But the senior official defended the Obama administration's implementation of the legislation, saying that many companies and countries are already cutting down their intake of Iranian oil to comply with the sanctions law, which provides a few months of lead-time for compliance before taking affect this spring.
The official predicted "significant action" from foreign entities in the near term, and pointed to recent reports that China was going to be purchasing less petroleum from Tehran.
The official also pushed back against the charge that the Obama administration had opposed the sanctions and now wasn't acting fast enough to implement them.
The administration had some differences over "tactics" but not the goal of the legislation, according to the official, and had acted as soon as it was passed, dispatching American diplomats around the world to inform foreign countries of the law and its consequences.
At the same time, the official stressed that the US is taking a measured approach in order to prevent a spike in oil prices, which would not only hurt the US economy but potentially neutralize the benefit of cutting Iran's oil sales.
"Our greatest concern is reducing the oil revenues to Iran," the official emphasized. "What we don't want to do, and why we're doing this in a phased but aggressive manner, is that if oil price goes up, we don't want Iran to benefit from the increase in oil prices."
Reuters contributed to this report.