U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday signed into law additional penalties aimed at pressuring Iran to halt nuclear activities that could support weapons development, the New York Times reported (see GSN, July 1).
The new law bars foreign firms dealing with Iran's Revolutionary Guard, the nation's energy sector or select Iranian banks from also doing business with the U.S. banking sector. In addition, it seeks to penalize firms selling gasoline to Iran through restrictions on their U.S. bank transactions, property transfers and foreign exchange in the United States (see GSN, June 30).
“With these sanctions, along with others, we are striking at the heart of the Iranian government’s ability to fund and develop its nuclear program,” Obama said at the legislation's signing ceremony yesterday evening. “We’re showing the Iranian government that its actions have consequences. And if it persists, the pressure will continue to mount, and its isolation will continue to deepen” (Peter Baker, New York Times, July 1).
Still, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs yesterday acknowledged the law was not a "silver bullet" for resolving the nuclear standoff, Reuters reported. Senior Obama administration officials in recent days have expressed doubt on whether sanctions would persuade Tehran to curb its atomic operations (Ross Colvin, Reuters, July 2).
Obama's signature followed overwhelming support for the legislation by U.S. lawmakers last week.
“I supported the president’s efforts to engage Iran diplomatically," House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) said in a statement. "But now we must focus on the pressure track, and we hope this legislation -- taken together with action by the United Nations and our allies -- will provide the president with the tools he needs to persuade Tehran to permanently abandon its nuclear weapons program.
“In the fall I intend to hold a hearing to review the effectiveness of our efforts to achieve this goal,” Berman said (U.S. House of Representative Foreign Affairs Committee release, July 1).
The U.S. Treasury Department indicated it was sending high-level representatives to Asia and Europe for talks with government officials and business leaders on how the law might be used to penalize firms, the Wall Street Journal reported today.
The United States is expected to pursue extensive dialogue with other countries in implementing the law. Washington would pursue means of allowing firms to end dealings with Iran before the companies become subject to penalties under the law, U.S. government sources said.
Present and past Treasury Department personnel said they were poring over open-source financial records and data provided by U.S. intelligence services to spot scores of international banks that have maintained ties to 16 targeted Iranian financial institutions.
Numerous companies in Germany, Japan and South Korea that have ties to Iran indicated they were evaluating how the newly passed law could affect their work (Wall Street Journal, July 2).
The law's restrictions on gasoline sales to Iran are most likely to affect blue-collar laborers such as taxi drivers, Bahman Baktiari, head of the University of Utah's Middle East Center, told the Christian Science Monitor. “Those are the people who risk feeling the biggest impact from these petroleum sanctions,” he said.
Still, some Iranians might not view the U.S. president critically for backing the punitive measures, Baktiari said.
“Obama is popular, and many Iranians, especially among the young people, think Obama gave a fair shake to the Iranian government with his offer for unconditional dialogue,” the analyst said. “These new sanctions will have an impact on Iran, but there’s a bigger chance now that people will blame that on the government” rather than the United States, he said (Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, July 1).
Meanwhile, the Obama administration yesterday expressed alarm over a Wall Street Journal report that Iran last year provided an advanced radar system to Syria, Agence France-Presse reported.
"We have concerns about the relationship between Iran and Syria," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said. "We don't believe that Iran's designs for the region are in Syria's best interest."
Still, it was uncertain whether provision of such a system to Syria would violate any U.N. resolutions, one high-level U.S. official said.
"Radars are by definition a defensive system by themselves," the source said. "The real issue is what are they going to do with that and are those developments stabilizing or destabilizing" (Agence France-Presse I/Google News, July 1).
France yesterday expressed disapproval of Iran's recent statement that a fourth sanctions resolution approved by the U.N. Security Council last month would not pressure the nation to halt its disputed nuclear activities, AFP reported. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki made the assertion in letters to the 15 Security Council nations.
"Very clear messages have been addressed to Iran so that it finally agrees to engage in talks on its sensitive activities," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said. "The letters received from Manouchehr Mottaki are not going in the right direction. What we expect from Iran is that it addresses the concerns of the international community with concrete measures" (Agence France-Presse II/Spacewar.com, June 1).
Elsewhere, former Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani yesterday challenged Russian hints that the latest U.N. sanctions resolution could bar Moscow from carrying out a 2007 deal to deliver an advanced air defense system to Tehran, the Associated Press reported.
"It is an old contract, therefore it has nothing to do with the ... resolution. Moreover, it is a defensive weapon," said Larijani, now speaker for the Iranian parliament.
Despite "fluctuations" in Russia's policy on Iran, relations between the two nations were not deteriorating, the official added (Associated Press/Moscow Times, July 1).
If Russia canceled the sale, Iran could become more reliant on China as a military supplier, Ruslan Pukhov, head of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technology, wrote in Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
“The direct loss will be the sum of the contract and fines,” Russia Today quoted Pukhov as saying.
National Energy Security Fund head Konstantin Simonov, though, said isolating Iran would offer "the most advantageous scenario for Russia."
“Tehran is increasingly conducting policies contrary to Russia’s interests,” Simonov said (Russia Today, July 1).
In Washington, the United States insisted it did not kidnap an Iranian nuclear scientist who disappeared during a trip to Saudi Arabia last year, United Press International reported.
"The United States has not kidnapped him from Saudi Arabia," Crowley said.
News reports in the United States stated that Shahram Amiri, 32, had defected and was supporting CIA operations against Tehran's nuclear work, while the Iranian government said Amiri was kidnapped.
A video aired on Iranian television this week was said to show Amiri describing his escape from U.S. agents (United Press International, July 1).