AP: Administration officials told impatient lawmakers Tuesday that they are ready to take swift and substantial action against Iran if it disregards current diplomatic efforts to stop its alleged nuclear weapons program. The Associated Press
By JIM ABRAMS
WASHINGTON (AP) — Administration officials told impatient lawmakers Tuesday that they are ready to take swift and substantial action against Iran if it disregards current diplomatic efforts to stop its alleged nuclear weapons program.
At a Senate Banking Committee hearing, lawmakers expressed skeptimism that Iran would negotiate in good faith. They said they would not wait long before acting on legislation to impose tough new sanctions on the Tehran government.
Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said he planned to move forward this month on a proposal to extend restrictions on financial transactions, impose new sanctions on oil and gas pipelines and tankers, restrict exports of certain refined petroleum products to Iran and impose a broad ban on imports from Iran.
Administration officials at the hearing stressed that sanctions against Iran are most effective if imposed by a united international coalition. Undersecretary of the Treasury Stuart Levey told the panel: "The less united we are in applying pressure, the greater the risk our measures will not have the impact we seek."
Last week, the United States and five allies held talks with Iran in Geneva where Iranaian officials agreed to open its newly disclosed nuclear plant to U.N. inspectors and take other steps to show it is not trying to develop nuclear weapons.
President Barack Obama said the talks were a "constructive beginning," while adding that his administration was working with Congress on new actions targeting Iran's energy, financial and telecommunications sectors in the event Iran did not live up to its promises.
James Steinberg, deputy secretary of state, told the hearing that the administration was "realistic" about prospects for engaging with the Iranian government. But he said the current dual-track strategy of diplomatic talks with the threat of punitive action was helping develop a strong consensus within the international community if the talks falter.
"Our patience is not unlimited," he added.
Levey said that with targeted sanctions backed by a broad coalition of governments, "we can at the very least demonstrate to the Iranian government that there are serious costs to any continued refusal to cooperate with the international community."
International concerns about Iran's nuclear work grew Tuesday with an Iranian newspaper report that the country plans to install a more advanced type of centrifuge at its newly revealed uranium enrichment site near the holy city of Qom
Iran insists its enrichment work is only meant for use in generating power, but Washington and its allies are suspicions of Tehran's intentions and fear its mastery of the technology will give them a pathway to weapons development.
Despite years of diplomatic efforts, Iran has "continued to choose a collision course with the free world," said Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. Brownback and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., are promoting a bill that would allow state and local governments and universities to divest their assets from any company that invests $20 million or more in Iran's energy sector.
Rep. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said Iran has a history of using diplomatic talks to stall for time and said the United States should move with urgency to impose "severe sanctions to arrest Iran's nuclear ambitions." He said steps to box in Iran's financial and energy sectors could have a profound effect, and that blocking gasoline exports "could be devastating to Iran's economy."
Dodd raised the issue of whether sanctions that disrupt the lives of ordinary Iranians are effective.
Sanctions, said Steinberg, are a matter of judgment and not science, and that the administration needed to decide what are the "smart sanctions that have the biggest impact."