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US pushes toward more biting Iran sanctions

The US House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday targeted Iran's oil industry amid a raft of new sanctions. Israel and Britain, meanwhile, prepared for military action.

By Staff writer / November 3, 2011

Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi speaks during the 15th International Oil and Gas Conference in Tehran, Monday. The US Congress targeted Iran's oil industry amid a raft of new sanctions.

Caren Firouz/Reuters

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Istanbul, Turkey

The United States has taken a step closer to imposing a raft of further sanctions on Iran, even as increasingly shrill rhetoric, Israeli military tests, and British media coverage signal intensifying saber-rattling toward Iran.

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Three weeks after US officials accused Iran of an assassination plot to be carried out on US soil, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted yesterday to expand sanctions against Iran. The far-ranging bill includes targeting Iran's central bank if the US president determines it is facilitating terrorism, financing nuclear weapons development, or supporting Iran's Revolutionary Guard.
 
Any such action against Iran's central bank – which serves as a clearinghouse for nearly all oil and gas payments in Iran – could make it more difficult for Iran to sell crude oil, its chief source of cash, by blocking companies doing business with it from also working with US financial institutions. Some Iranian officials have likened such a step to an act of war.

Among many other things, the bill would also forbid American diplomats any contact with Iranian officials without advance congressional approval, and raise the bar further for exports of any US-made item – which would include civilian aircraft parts, an especially sore point for Iranians and their crash-prone domestic fleet of aging planes.

The Senate is also working on a similar sanctions measure that has bipartisan support, which would then need to be reconciled with the House bill before becoming law. Senior US lawmakers spoke of their plans to "hand the Iranian regime a nice holiday present," but critics say it will be counterproductive.

"This bill is beyond extreme," said Jamal Abdi, the policy director for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) in Washington, in a posting on the group's website.

"This will punish ordinary people in Iran, spike gas prices worldwide, and cost jobs in the US," said Mr. Abdi, whose group has argued for US engagement with Iran. "We've been down this road before. Sanctions on Iraq's central bank failed to change Saddam Hussein's regime, contributed to humanitarian suffering, and ultimately ended with a war."

Israel test-launches powerful missiles for first time in three years

The call for more sanctions erupted anew in Washington after the Obama administration last month revealed details of what it alleged to be an Iranian plot, approved at high levels in Iran, to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington and target the Saudi and Israeli embassies.

In subsequent hearings, some US lawmakers have called for strikes against Iran, to damage Iran's nuclear program and to "kill" those who they charged had been "killing" Americans for three decades.

The sanctions move comes amid a perfect storm of events that are raising pressure on Iran, particularly from Israel, whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has this week tried to persuade his cabinet to support an attack on Iran, and wants US military action as well.

The Islamic Republic's arch-foe Israel test-fired a nuclear-capable long-range Jericho 3 ballistic missile yesterday morning, the first such test since 2008. 

The intercontinental ballistic missile has a range and capability that far outstrips any other missiles in the region, including those in Iran's arsenal. With a range of more than 7,000 miles – and longer, with a smaller warhead – the Jericho 3 can fly roughly three times farther than any target in Iran, and the test was heralded by Defense Minister Ehud Barak as an "impressive technological achievement" of Israel's "defense industries."

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