President Obama announced new sanctions on Iran on Tuesday just as lawmakers of both parties in the House and Senate ran out of patience and introduced their own legislation.
In his first action, Obama signed an executive order that imposes new sanctions on the Iranian energy and petrochemical sectors to block the country from circumventing existing sanctions. The order also expands sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical industry by making the purchase or acquisition of Iranian petrochemical products sanctionable.
Separately, the Treasury Department announced sanctions against two international financial institutions — Bank of Kunlun in China and Elaf Islamic Bank in Iraq — for facilitating transactions on behalf of Iranian banks that are subject to international sanctions.
“Since taking office, we have presented the Iranian government with a clear choice: come in line with your international obligations and rejoin the community of nations, or face growing consequences,” Obama said in a statement. “With these actions, we are once again reaffirming our commitment to hold the Iranian government accountable for its actions.”
Administration officials told reporters they weren’t trying to derail the congressional sanctions bill but rather were working with Congress to increase the pressure on Iran to abandon its alleged nuclear weapons program.
“With respect to the current legislation, we’ve been working with Congress as they’ve developed that legislation. We certainly share the goal. And we believe it can be an important tool in adding to the sanctions regime we have in place,” said Ben Rhodes, the deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications.
He stopped short of endorsing the current version, however.
“We are reviewing the specific text of the bill that was produced,” Rhodes said, “but we’re quite optimistic that we’re going to be able to continue to work in lockstep with Congress with this new legislation.”
Asked about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments over the weekend that international sanctions haven’t slowed down Iran’s alleged nuclear program by “one iota,” Rhodes said they should be given time to work. Iran says its research is purely for civilian purposes.
“The purpose of the sanctions is to affect the Iranian calculus,” Rhodes said. “It is certainly the case that Iran has not yet decided to come in line with their international obligations, which is why we’re continuing to build out the sanctions…What we do see is the sanctions having a significant impact on the Iranian economy and the government’s ability to access revenue, and that has consequences ultimately for what they can spend money on, what technology they can procure for their program.”
The main Senate sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), tweeted his approval of the administration’s latest actions.
“Also applaud Pres. Obama @WhiteHouse for their new sanctions to toughen Iran sanctions stop Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions,” he wrote.
This post was updated at 3:30 p.m. with comment from the administration