- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 6, 2009

UPDATED:

A top Obama administration official charged with designing financial sanctions to punish Iran said Tuesday that the U.S. is continuing to work on a package of punitive measures designed to constrain Tehran, despite historic talks with Tehran last week that proved more fruitful than expected.

“Even as the administration focuses on diplomacy, we have also been working with our colleagues across the U.S. government to develop a strategy for imposing substantial costs on the government of Iran if the president determines that is what is needed to affect Iranian policies,” said Stuart Levey, undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, in prepared testimony on Capitol Hill.

A number of senators from both parties expressed concern that Iran’s concessions at talks last week are likely duplicitous, and pressed for the administration to move forward with sanctions.

“We must now not let up,” said Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, who is sponsoring sanctions legislation, and called the situation with Iran’s nuclear program “increasingly urgent.”

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.

“We’ve got to push this forward at this point in time and not wait and not dither,” said Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican.

Although Mr. Levey said that financial sanctions applied by his office since 2006 have had an impact on Iran, he acknowledged that they can only do so much.

“We should be realistic about the ability of sanctions to achieve our political and security objectives with Iran,” he said.

If the U.S. government, however, designs a well-aimed sanctions package and gains the support of a broad coalition of foreign governments and private sector businesses, he said, “we can at least demonstrate to the Iranian government that there are serious costs to any continued refusal to cooperate with the international community.”

At the same hearing, Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg was set to tell the Senate Banking Committee that the administration remains opposed to Tehran’s obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“Let me be clear about our objective,” he said in prepared testimony. “Our goal is to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability.”

But Mr. Steinberg, for his part, was cautious about the results of the talks last week in Geneva with Iran, the other four members of the United Nations Security Council, and Germany, which yielded agreement from Tehran on key issues surrounding its recently disclosed nuclear facility near the city of Qom and on shipment of low-enriched uranium to Russia.

“We are realistic about the prospects from diplomacy, particularly given Iran’s repeated intransigence and deception,” Mr. Steinberg said.

Nonetheless, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said late Monday that Tehran’s concessions in Geneva had put sanctions on the back burner for the moment.

“It buys time,” she said in an interview with CNN. “It buys time for us to consider carefully their response, the sincerity of their actions, and, you know, we’re moving simultaneously on the dual track.”


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