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Obama administration keeps Bush official involved with Iran sanctions

Stuart Levey was part of efforts for global financial boycotts.

February 03, 2009|Paul Richter

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has decided to retain the official who led the Bush administration's effort to squeeze Iran with economic sanctions, providing an important clue on how it intends to approach the Islamic Republic.

Stuart Levey, Treasury Department undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, will remain in his post, officials said. Levey has overseen an effort to dissuade international banks from dealing with Iranian government agencies and firms that U.S. officials believe support terrorism or help defy U.N. resolutions on nuclear nonproliferation.

The Obama team has promised to open talks with Iran in hopes of convincing officials in Tehran to give up their nuclear ambitions. President Obama has said that he wants both "bigger carrots and bigger sticks" to prevent the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran. The move signals that Obama will continue to aggressively pressure Tehran, even as he offers engagement.

Administration officials have said that U.S. military force remains an option as well. Tehran insists that its nuclear program is for producing energy, but U.S. officials and their allies suspect Iran of pursuing atomic weaponry.

Levey, a Harvard-trained lawyer, visited scores of banks overseas to persuade them not to do business with Iran. His campaign, which also has targeted shipping and insurance firms, has brought protests from the Tehran government.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Levey had served "with great distinction" since 2004, and keeping him was in the "national interest."

A State Department official said the new administration's goal was to "keep what works and to stop doing what doesn't produce results."

Still awaiting action by the Obama administration is a decision on whether to appoint a "super envoy" to deal with Iran.

Dennis Ross, a former U.S. Mideast peace negotiator and foreign policy advisor to Obama's political campaign, is the rumored choice for the job. But officials insist that no decision has been made. Some observers have argued that Ross is too hawkish for the job.

Meanwhile, the five nations negotiating with Iran -- China, France, Britain, Russia and Germany -- meet Wednesday in Berlin. The United States will also be there, represented by William Burns, undersecretary of State for political affairs.

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paul.richter@latimes.com

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