The Washington Times - October 7, 2009, 08:03AM

Top Obama administration officials from State, Treasury and Commerce were on the Hill Tuesday to testify on Iran sanctions. I wrote two pieces on this. The first focused on the administration’s assurances that they are still working on sanctions, despite ongoing talks with Tehran, and on lawmakers’ growing impatience with the Iranians.

Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, said the U.S. “cannot weather endless rounds of fruitless negotiations while the Iranian regime surreptitiously advances its nuclear ambitions.”

“How long are we to pursue what up to now have been fruitless negotiations?” he said.

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Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg allowed that diplomacy can only do so much.

Mr. Steinberg’s prepared testimony stated that the Obama administration is “realistic about the prospects from diplomacy, particularly given Iran’s repeated intransigence and deception.”

However, the line about “intransigence and deception” did not make it into Mr. Steinberg’s actual opening statement. All he said was “we are realistic about the prospects of engagement.”

The second piece, which was in the print paper, highlighted a comment made late in the 2-hour hearing.

Facing growing congressional angst over the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, the Obama administration said Tuesday it is trying to gauge whether Tehran is able to act with rational self-interest or whether it is on a trajectory to become a nuclear wild card.

“While we don’t know for sure, what we’re trying to do now is probe that,” said Stuart Levey, undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, who is in charge of designing and enforcing financial sanctions against Tehran and other rogue governments.

I also spoke to a White House official who told me that Russia has a stake in seeing Iran follow through on the commitments it made last week in Geneva.

A senior White House official argued that while China remains a more difficult sell, the Russians are “heavily invested” in the strategy to have Iran ship its LEU out of the country, because the Kremlin proposed and supported the idea.

“If the Iranians walk away it will be embarrassing for the Russians,” said the official, who asked to not be identified in order to speak freely. He did acknowledge that if Iran is “able to string this along and do half measures and not deliver, there is concern that the unity [on sanctions] might be frayed somewhat.”

— Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times

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