U.S. Senate Ups Ante in Iran Sanctions

Washington, Dec. 2 - The U.S. Senate unanimously approved new sanctions on Iran’s central bank and other financial institutions Thursday night, even as Obama administration officials expressed opposition to the measures.

“This is the right amendment at the right time sending the right message in the face of a very irresponsible regime,” said Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), one of the amendment’s authors.

The sanctions would give the President the ability starting July 1, 2012 to bar foreign financial institutions from having a U.S. bank account while having one in Iran.

“The Central Bank of Iran has become a vital intermediary for purchasers of Iranian crude because existing sanctions against the Persian Gulf country have constrained Iran’s ability to access the international financial sector to settle oil trades,” Mark Dubowitz, director of the Iran Energy Project at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, told Bloomberg Businessweek on Friday.

The sanctions, which are part of a larger military aid bill, were strenuously opposed by the Obama administration, which has long avoided sanctioning Iran’s main monetary organ because of fears of drastically affecting the price of oil and the world economy.

 

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner voiced “strong opposition” to the measure. “In its current form,” said Geithner of the amendment, “it threatens to undermine the effective, carefully phased and sustainable approach” the administration is currently advocating.

Oil rose above $109 per barrel Friday over the tension surrounding Iran, a major exporter of oil.

Also Friday, Iranian diplomats in Britain were leaving the country after they were expelled by UK authorities over the storming of the British embassy in Iran Tuesday. Anglo-Iranian relations have now hit their lowest point in years over the assault by hundreds of students, which reports say was planned by the paramilitary Basij militia.

Meanwhile, a mysterious explosion in the Iranian city of Isfahan Monday was rumored to have hit an Iranian military project tied to the country’s renegade nuclear weapon development efforts, as did a blast last month that hit a Revolutionary Guards military base and killed the head of Iran’s missile development project.

Such events have left analysts wondering whether, apart from the layers of sanctions that have hit Iran, a semi-cover campaign by the West has already begun against Iran’s nuclear efforts.

“It's not unreasonable to group these recent explosions with the Stuxnet virus of last summer,” Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic wrote Friday, “proof that the West’s war on Iran’s nuclear program is getting less covert by the minute.”


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