Jerusalem, Jan. 1 – President Barack Obama signed into law a new defense bill that imposes the strictest sanctions yet on Iran. With more pressure on Tehran, Iranians are now calling for new talks on its nuclear program in another apparent attempt to avoid international condemnation of their pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The sanctions can be imposed on institutions dealing with Iran’s central bank, the main conduit for Iranian petroleum sales, and would ban the institutions from American markets. They are the result of previous international calls for “crippling sanctions” that would force Iran to finally respect repeated United Nations resolutions demanding a halt to its nuclear program.
In the face of harsh world reaction, Iran also backed down from threats last week that the Iranian military would respond to the sanctions by blocking shipping in the strategic Strait of Hormuz. A senior commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, said the time was not right to raise the issue of closing the vital shipping lanes.
The new sanctions also come on the heels of a damning report by the International Atomic Energy Agency in November that indicated Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons.
The Iranians are in the midst of 10-day military exercise in which they are testing various weapons including anti-ship missiles and torpedoes that would threaten both commercial shipping and American warships stationed in the Gulf. The Iranian weapons program includes medium-range ballistic missiles that can reach Europe. The IAEA report expressed fears of “development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”
Obama has said that the United States would not tolerate an Iran armed with nuclear weapons, and sees a nuclear Iran as a threat to regional and world peace.
As the heated Iowa caucus looms ahead, Republican presidential front runners also have the Iran issue on their front burner.
“I don’t trust the ayatollahs, I don’t trust [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad,” Mitt Romney said of the Iranian president. “I will do everything in my power to assure that Iran doesn’t become a nuclear nation [and] threaten Israel, threaten us and threaten the entire world,” Romney said when asked about the issue, adding that “frankly, the greatest threat that the world faces is a nuclear Iran.”
Romney’s views are in stark contrast with Rep. Ron Paul who earlier this month during a debate in Sioux City, Iowa, cautioned against “jumping the gun” when it comes to Iran.
“I would say that the greatest danger is overreacting,” Paul said during the Fox News debate. “There is no evidence that they have it. And it would make more sense — if we lived through the Cold War, which we did, with 30,000 missiles pointed at us, we ought to really sit back and think and not jump the gun and believe that we are going to be attacked.”
The sanctions were approved just after the U.S. government agreed to a major weapons sale to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, viewed as key American allies and both harboring fears of a nuclear armed Iran.