Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton found a welcome audience on the Hill Tuesday on the subject of sanctions against the Iranian regime. She said that the administration is working to implement the new Iran sanctions “as aggressively as we can” and has been seeing more progress than expected, with European and Asian countries moving toward reducing their purchases from the Islamic Republic.
“We are working to help you in the Senate in terms of imposing those sanctions,” Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said. The Senate unanimously passed strict new sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran, which President Obama signed on New Years Eve.
Iran is finding it increasingly difficult to import and export its products, Clinton told the Senate State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee. “European and Asian countries are actually moving more quickly toward reducing their purchases than we thought they’d be able to,” Clinton said. “We’re just relentlessly pressing them … and we’re going to do our very best to help them.”
The European Union has agreed to ban the purchase of oil from Tehran, but Clinton cited some “unique situations” in reducing dependence on Iranian oil. Japan, for example, is still recovering from last year's earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear meltdown.
“They have been aggressively seeking out new suppliers … but they’ve got to find new suppliers,” Clinton said, noting that sanctions are in place against Syria and that Libya’s oil production remains slowed since the fight against strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi.
Wednesday marks the first major milestone in those sanctions sponsored by Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., a senior Senate aide involved in Iran sanctions said, as the date by which Obama must impose sanctions on any private international financial institution that engages in a significant transaction with Iran’s central bank for any purpose other than oil. “Since the administration’s regulations specifically excluded natural gas, LNG, and methanol from the definition of ‘petroleum products,’ any transactions for those commodities are on the chopping block for sanctions,” the aide said via e-mail.
“Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle fear that a White House decision to exercise the president’s national-security waiver or to simply not impose sanctions tomorrow will greatly undercut the international momentum on sanctions and make an Israeli military strike even more likely.”
With Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Washington this week, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu due to visit in a few days, ranking member Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., grilled Clinton on whether she thought Iran was trying to develop a nuclear weapon.
“There is no doubt they are developing their nuclear capacity,” Clinton said. “It is the conclusion by our intelligence community that they have not made the decision to pursue a nuclear weapon.” Whether Iran is working to create the capability to build a nuclear weapon is “a point of debate within the intelligence community,” Clinton said.
Graham, for his part, said he had "no doubt" about "what the Iranians are up to."
He added, "I just think we need to embrace the idea that the Iranians are in fact developing nuclear capability and it should be the policy of the United States to prevent that from happening."