Thwarted internationally, the Obama administration cobbled together a new set of best-available sanctions against Iran on Monday that underlined its limited capacity to force Tehran to halt its suspected nuclear weapons program.
The U.S. action was coordinated with Britain and Canada but not with countries such as Russia and China that have far greater economic investments in the Islamic republic.
Alleged nuclear site watched
Satellite surveillance has shown an increase in activity at an Iranian site suspected of links to alleged secret work on nuclear weapons, officials tell The Associated Press.
The reports come as the International Atomic Energy Agency and nations tracking Iran’s nuclear program increase efforts to monitor such sites following the strongest IAEA report to date on alleged Iranian research and development of such weapons. But the significance is unclear.
One official cited intelligence from his home country, saying it appeared Tehran is trying to cover its tracks by sanitizing the site and removing any evidence of nuclear research and development. But two others reserved judgment while confirming sightings of increased activity.
The American sanctions target Iran’s oil and petrochemicals industry and Iranian companies involved in nuclear procurement or enrichment activity. The U.S. also declared Iran’s banking system a center for money laundering — designed as a stern warning to financial institutions around the world to think twice before doing business with Tehran.
President Barack Obama said Iran had a choice: come clean on its nuclear program and reap the benefits of closer economic cooperation with the world, or face even more pressure.
“Iran has chosen the path of international isolation,” Obama said in a statement. “As long as Iran continues down this dangerous path, the United States will continue to find ways, both in concert with our partners and through our own actions to isolate and increase the pressure upon the Iranian regime.”
The new restrictions essentially amount to a piecemeal addition to dozens of American measures already in place to isolate Iran’s economy, partly reflecting the need for a quick response to a U.N. nuclear agency report suggesting Iranian work toward the development of atomic weapons. Release of the report two weeks ago sparked frenzied international diplomacy over how to halt the Iranian threat, including speculation in the U.S., Europe and Israel on the merits of a military intervention.
The larger American dilemma is twofold: After three decades of economic estrangement and escalating pressure on Tehran for its dismal human rights record and alleged support for terrorism, the United States has few tools left to coerce or penalize the Iranian regime. And Washington is unlikely to authorize a military strike anytime soon, conscious that an attack may delay but not stop Iran from developing the bomb and fearful of the political fallout at a time when the U.S. is flailing in debt and trying to transition from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For the Obama administration, even the sanctions route is constrained. The United Nations has passed four rounds of global sanctions against Iran since 2006, but veto-wielding nations Russia and China stand in the way of any further action. And even unilaterally, American officials have held back from blanketing all of Iran’s fuel-related exports and its central bank with sanctions, for fear of spiking world oil prices and hampering the American economic recovery.