President Obama signed an executive order Monday morning freezing all U.S.-held assets of the Iranian government, including its Central Bank, even as he continued to try to ease fears that Israel is preparing to carry out a unilateral strike on the Islamic Republic.
The presidential order is the latest in a string of sanctions the U.S. has pursued against Iran in recent months as Tehran steps up the development of nuclear capabilities despite warnings from the U.S. and other nations to halt its activity.
In a statement accompanying the order, Mr. Obama said the sanctions are necessary because of the “deceptive practices to conceal transactions” of the Central Bank, the “deficiencies in Iran’s anti-money-laundering regime,” and the “unacceptable risk” posed to the international financial system by Iran’s activities.
Mr. Obama also said in an interview that the U.S. has a “very good estimate” of how far along Iran’s nuclear development is, but it is having a more difficult time assessing its leadership’s intentions, as well as the political dynamics within the Islamic Republic.
“Do we know all the dynamics inside Iran? Absolutely not. And I think one of the difficulties is that Iran itself is a lot more divided now than it was,” Mr. Obama told NBC’s Matt Lauer in an interview taped Sunday afternoon and aired Monday morning.
“You’ve got, you know, the supreme leader contesting the president in some situation. Knowing who is making decisions at any given time inside of Iran is tough. But we do have a pretty good bead on what’s happening with their nuclear program.”
But the president would not say whether the U.S. has developed a next generation of “bunker-busting bombs” at the ready that could hit underground nuclear sites in Iran, refusing to discuss specific military programs or U.S. contingency plans.
“I will say this, that we have done extensive planning over the last several years about all our various options in the Gulf. And, you know, we are prepared to exercise these options, should they — should the need arise,” he said. “But my goal is to try to resolve this diplomatically, mainly because the only way, over the long term, we can assure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon is by getting them to understand it’s not in their interest.”
The comments were part of the same NBC interview, the first portion of which aired Sunday during the network’s Super Bowl pregame show, in which Mr. Obama pledged to work with Israel in “lockstep” to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and tried to play down fears Israel was prepared to carry out a military strike on Iran.
“I don’t think Israel has made a decision on what they need to do,” he said. “We are going to make sure that we work in lockstep as we proceed to solve this — hopefully, diplomatically.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was on Capitol Hill on Monday, meeting with Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“They really focused on [Iran] sanctions and, obviously, trying to get international players on board, particularly the Russians and the Chinese, and so you have a unified front in terms of sanctions,” Lugar spokesman Andy Fisher told Agence France-Presse.
Russia and China have blocked mandatory international sanctions against Iran at the U.N. Security Council, leaving the U.S. and Europe to implement whatever economic punishments they can on their own.
On Monday, the Treasury Department announced that Daniel L. Glaser, assistant secretary for terrorist financing, will visit Moscow later this week as part of a trip that also will include visits to the U.S.-allied Arab regimes in Oman and Qatar.
Mr. Glaser’s Moscow visit will involve discussions of “global efforts to increase pressure on the Iranian regime and isolate Iran from the international financial system.”