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New Iran sanctions: why President Obama is tightening the screws

The White House announces new sanctions against Iran, targeting its oil sector and related banks, in what appears to be an election-year bid to show that President Obama is still tough on Tehran.  

By Staff writer / July 31, 2012

An Iranian security guard stands at the Maroun Petrochemical plant at the Imam Khomeini port in southwestern Iran in this file photo. President Obama on Tuesday announced two new measures Tuesday aimed at tightening the screws once again on Iran’s ability to sell its oil abroad and operate in the world financial system.

Vahid Salemi/AP

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Washington

Appearing anything but brutally tough with Iran over its nuclear program is one of the last things President Obama wants going into the politically critical month of August in an election year.

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That helps explain why the president announced two new measures Tuesday aimed at tightening the screws once again on Iran’s ability to sell its oil abroad and operate in the world financial system.

The White House is also bolstering its tough-on-Iran credentials by speaking anew of long-standing international demands that Iran suspend all uranium enrichment – a position it had silenced in recent months as it pursued a diplomatic resolution of Iran’s nuclear challenge. 

The new actions include additional sanctions on Iran’s huge petroleum sector, and target two banks, one Chinese and one Iraqi, that have been facilitating millions of dollars in Iranian financial transactions. They come just two days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that “sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian [nuclear] program by one iota.”

In reviewing the new measures with reporters Tuesday, administration officials were careful not to say they disagreed with Mr. Netanyahu – even as they disputed the criticism that sanctions are having no impact.

“We do see the sanctions having an effect in terms of sharpening the choice for the Iranian government,” said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. According to Mr. Rhodes, the US and international sanctions are significantly reducing the Iranian government’s revenues, while the sanctions are “making it much more difficult for Iran to procure the technology it needs” to advance its nuclear program. 

International sanctions are reducing Iran’s oil revenues by more than $9 billion a quarter, according to Robert Einhorn, special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control at the State Department. Oil sales provide the bulk of the government's revenues. 

The cumulative effect of the sanctions, he said, is that they are slowing Iran’s progress. That, he added, is providing more “time and space to pursue a diplomatic resolution.”

Where the White House agrees with Netanyahu, Rhodes added, is that “we have not yet seen Iran make a decision to come in line with [its] international obligations” by suspending uranium enrichment and curtailing its nuclear program.

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